On Sunday, a Ryanair flight travelling from Greece to Lithuania was diverted and forced to land in Minsk for several hours. Officers of the Belarus KBG entered the plane and arrested Roman Protasevich, a journalist who has been an outspoken critique of Lukashenko’s regime.
On Monday, pro-government channels in Belarus posted a video of Protasevich where he confessed to the allegations against him for “plotting riots.” While Protasevich also said that he was being treated “lawfully,” there are serious concerns that his confession was coerced. Protasevich’s father spoke to Reuters after the video’s release, stating that his son looked beaten and his nose seemed broken.
Belarusian authorities alleged that the flight was diverted due to a message received from Hamas, a Palestinian organization, who threatened to blow up the plane if the European Union did not condemn Israeli Attacks in the Gaza Strip, but no explosives were found on board.
The European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom strongly condemned the diversion of the flight by the Belarusian authorities and the arrest of Protasevich.
EU leaders have agreed on a series of sanctions to be imposed against Belarus and said that more will come.
European Council President Charles Michel stated that “[The EU] won’t tolerate that one can try to play Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians.”
“This is an attack on democracy and freedom of expression” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission.
Belarusian journalist Protasevich was involved in organizing mass protests in Minsk last year that opposed Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.
His detention has sparked international outrage, with many calling it a “kidnapping” and an act of “state piracy”. The international community has called for the immediate release of the young journalist.
Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olta Xhaçka has also joined calls for an international investigation into this serious and dangerous incident and for the release of Roman Protasevich.