Belarus Scrambles Jet to Pressure Down Airplane Carrying Dissident


MOSCOW — Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the brutal and erratic president of Belarus, scrambled a fighter jet on Sunday to power a business airplane carrying a distinguished opposition journalist to land within the capital, Minsk, in an effort to arrest him.

Roman Protasevich, 26, was touring aboard a Ryanair flight that was compelled to make an emergency touchdown in Minsk whereas flying over Belarus. The airplane was carrying some 170 individuals of 18 nationalities from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, officers stated.

The motion drew fierce criticism from Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, who referred to as it “abhorrent” in his Twitter account and demanded that the Belarusian authorities launch Mr. Protasevich. Each Lithuania and Greece are members of the European Union.

The Belarusian authorities stated they took the motion after receiving details about a bomb risk on board, and did so regardless that Vilnius, the airplane’s closing vacation spot, was a lot nearer to Minsk when it was compelled down.

Belarus’s presidential information service stated in an announcement that Mr. Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 to escort the Ryanair airplane to the Minsk airport. In response to the assertion, Mr. Lukashenko gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the airplane do a U-turn and land.”

The nation’s Protection Ministry stated 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 concerning the incident.

Upon the airplane’s arrival in Minsk, Mr. Protasevich was arrested, the nation’s inside ministry stated in an announcement that was later deleted from its official Telegram channel. No bomb was discovered on board, the Minsk airport’s information service said, based on, a neighborhood information web site. Following the search, the remaining passengers

Mr. Protasevich is a co-founder and a former editor of the NEXTA Telegram channel, one of the common opposition retailers in Belarus, the place most impartial media organizations have been compelled 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 residing 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 fundamental safety service, nonetheless referred to as the Ok.G.B., put Mr. Protasevich on its checklist of terrorists.

Mr. Protasevich’s arrest comes months after the most important wave of road protests within the historical past of Belarus did not 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 throughout the protests. Tons of 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 main opponent over the past presidential election in August, which was extensively considered rigged, referred to as the episode with the Ryanair flight “an operation by the particular companies to hijack an plane in an effort to detain activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.”

“Not a single one who flies over Belarus may be positive of his security,” she stated.