MOSCOW — Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the brutal and erratic president of Belarus, scrambled a fighter jet on Sunday to power a business aircraft carrying a outstanding opposition journalist to land within the capital, Minsk, with a purpose to arrest him.
Roman Protasevich, 26, was touring aboard a Ryanair flight that was pressured to make an emergency touchdown in Minsk whereas flying over Belarus. The aircraft was carrying some 170 individuals of no less than 18 nationalities from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, officers mentioned.
Each Lithuania and Greece are members of the European Union. Ursula von der Leyen, the E.U. president, sharply criticized the motion as “completely unacceptable” and demanded that the passengers be allowed to proceed on to Vilnius. The aircraft was nonetheless in Minsk on Sunday evening however was mentioned to be getting ready to depart after passengers cleared safety.
The motion additionally drew fierce criticism from Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, who known as it “abhorrent” in his Twitter account and demanded that the Belarusian authorities launch Mr. Protasevich.
The Belarusian authorities mentioned they took the motion after receiving details about a bomb risk on board, and did so though Vilnius, the aircraft’s remaining vacation spot, was a lot nearer than Minsk when it was pressured down. Mr. Lukashenko and his authorities are recognized to make use of ruses to pursue their political opponents.
Belarus’s presidential information service mentioned in an announcement that Mr. Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 to escort the Ryanair aircraft to the Minsk airport. Based on the assertion, Mr. Lukashenko gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the aircraft do a U-turn and land.”
The nation’s Protection Ministry mentioned in one other assertion that the nation’s air protection forces have been placed on excessive alert.
Ryanair officers weren’t instantly out there to remark in regards to the incident.
Upon the aircraft’s arrival in Minsk, Mr. Protasevich was arrested, the nation’s inside ministry mentioned in an announcement that was later deleted from its official Telegram channel. No bomb was discovered on board, the Minsk airport’s information service mentioned, based on Mlyn.by, a neighborhood information web site. Mr. Protasevich is a co-founder and a former editor of the NEXTA Telegram channel, probably the most fashionable opposition shops in Belarus, the place most unbiased media organizations have been pressured to close down following large-scale protests that convulsed the nation following a disputed presidential election in 2020.
Over the previous few years, Mr. Protasevich has been dwelling in Lithuania in exile, fearing imprisonment in Belarus, his residence nation, the place he’s accused of inciting hatred and mass dysfunction and faces greater than 12 years in jail if convicted. In November, the nation’s most important safety service, nonetheless known as the Ok.G.B., put Mr. Protasevich on its checklist of terrorists.
Mr. Protasevich’s arrest comes months after the largest wave of avenue protests within the historical past of Belarus didn’t depose Mr. Lukashenko, who has been ruling the nation with an iron fist for over 26 years.
Greater than 32,000 protesters have been arrested and no less than 4 died in the course of the protests. A whole lot have been brutally overwhelmed by the police. NEXTA emerged because the main outlet coordinating the demonstrations.
Backed by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and utilizing violence unseen in Europe for many years, Mr. Lukashenko managed to efficiently crack down on protesters, with the nation’s safety equipment remaining loyal to him.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Mr. Lukashenko’s most important opponent over the last presidential election in August, which was extensively considered rigged, known as the episode with the Ryanair flight “an operation by the particular providers to hijack an plane with a purpose to detain activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.”
“Not a single one that flies over Belarus will be certain of his security,” she mentioned.