Opposition figures arrested after re-flying in Belarus | European News
The founder of Messaging App Channel was once the main channel of information for opponents of the dictatorship of Belarus. He had been arrested after a passenger plane he was travelling on was transferred to the capital Minsk due to a bomb threat.
According to the Presidential News Agency, President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to accompany the Ryanair plane-from Athens, Greece to Vilnius-Minsk Airport, Lithuania on Sunday.
The Belarusian Ministry of Interior said that Raman Pratasevich was arrested at the airport. Pratasevich is the co-founder of the Nexta channel, a Telegram communication app. After Belarus used the channel to organize large-scale protests against Lukashenko last year, Belarus called him an “extremist.”
Platasevich, who fled Poland for Poland, faces charges that could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.
The Presidential News Agency stated that the plane received bomb threats while flying over Belarusian territory. The officer then said that no explosives were found on the ship.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda asked Belarus to release Protasevich.
“Unprecedented activity! A civilian airliner flying to Vilnius was forced to land at #Minsk,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Twitter.
“The Belarusian political activist and founder of @NEXTA_EN was on the plane. He was arrested. The regime is behind the heinous actions. I demand the emergency release of Roman Protasevic!” Nauseda added.
An unprecedented event!A civilian airliner bound for Vilnius was forced to land at #Minsk.Political activist and founder of Belarus @NEXTA_EN On the plane. He was arrested. ??The regime is behind the heinous actions. I request the emergency release of Roman Protasevi?!
-GitanasNaus?da (@GitanasNauseda) May 23, 2021
He also urged NATO and the European Union to “respond immediately to the threat of the Belarusian regime against international civil aviation” in another statement issued by their offices.
Nauseda said: “I will discuss this issue at the EU summit in Brussels tomorrow.”
The European Union said on Sunday that all passengers on the Ryanair plane must be allowed to resume their journey immediately.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter: “All passengers must be able to continue to Vilnius immediately and ensure their safety.”
She added: “Any violation of international air transport rules must bear the consequences.”
The exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya) called on ICAO to start an investigation.
She said in a statement: “It is absolutely obvious that this is a type of aircraft hijacking by special forces to detain activist and blogger Raman Platasevich.” “No one can fly over Belarus. Ensure his safety.”
Ryanair said that Belarus has notified the crew of the plane of potential security threats and instructed it to move to the nearest Minsk airport.
It said the plane landed safely, unloaded passengers, and was inspected by local authorities for safety.
Tadeusz Giczan, a member of the Nexta team, said on Twitter that representatives of the Belarusian security agency were flying with Protasevich.
He said: “Then when the plane entered Belarusian airspace, the KGB officer fought with the Ryanair crew and insisted that the plane was equipped with an improvised explosive device.”
Last year, 26-year-old Protasevich and Nexta co-founder Stepan Putilo (22 years old) were included in the Belarusian list of “individuals involved in terrorist activities”.
The two bloggers living in Poland were added to the list based on previous charges for causing large-scale unrest, which could lead to up to 15 years in prison.
They also face charges of inciting social hatred against the government and law enforcement officials, and have been included on the internationally wanted list of Belarus and Russia, an ally of Russian President Lukashenko.
Nexta Live and its sister channel Nexta (with nearly 2 million subscribers on Telegram Messenger) are important voices in the Belarusian opposition and have helped mobilize protesters.
In October, Belarus marked the Nexta Telegram channel and its logo as “extremist” and ordered it to be blocked. Reposting information from the channel will be fined.
After controversial elections in August last year, after Belarus’ bloody suppression, the Baltic EU country Lithuania granted Protasevich refugee status. Tikhanovskaya also fled to Lithuania and is still there.
Belarus has seen unprecedented Mass protest After Lukashenko requested a sixth term in August last year, the opposition and Western diplomats called it manipulative.
The police suppressed the protest, detained about 30,000 people, and beat many of them.
Although the protests ended in the winter, Belarus continued to take action against the opposition and independent news media. Last week, 11 staff members of the TUT.by news website were detained by the police.
The European Union and the United States have sanctioned Lukashenko and dozens of officials and businessmen associated with his government by freezing assets and banning visas.