On May 24th Ryanair flight FR4978 on its way from Athens to Vilnius made an emergency landing in Minsk, Belarus. The Belarusian government staged a false bomb threat and forced the Ryanair plane to land in Minsk. When the plane landed in Minsk the Belarusian regime arrested the journalist Roman Protasevitsj. He has led several protest movements since 2011, which has already resulted in a number of prosecutions. He also led the Telegram channel Nexta, an opposition channel that was instrumental in organizing mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians last year.
After it became known that the Belarusian government staged a false bomb threat to arrest Roman Protasevitsj, the CEO of Ryanair Michael O’Leary said that this was a “state-sponsored hijacking”. The company also believes there were some KGB agents as well as FSB agents on board of the flight. The Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) described this act as “aviation piracy that is state-sponsored” and the Italian MFA described it as a kidnapping. However, the Belarusian Ministry of Transport and Communications said it received a mail from the terrorist group Hamas stating that it would blow up the Ryanair plane. This is widely believed to be nonsense.
Currently, Protasevitsj is being held captive in SIZO 1, the jail where most of the political activists against President Lukashenko are being held captive. In this jail, a video was recorded in which Protasevitsj denied reports he had suffered health problems since his arrest and said he was confessing to inciting mass riots, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. His father, Dzmitry Protasevitsj, said the video statement seemed to be a result of coercion. “It is likely that his nose is broken because the shape of it has changed and there’s a lot of powder on it. All of the left side of his face has powder.”
In response to the arrest of Protasevitsj, the EU implemented new sanctions against the Belarusian regime. The new sanctions will cover individuals involved in the hijacking, businesses that finance the Belarusian regime and the aviation sector. The EU’s heads of state and government also called on EU carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace and agreed “to adopt the necessary measures to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports” in a major blow to the country’s national airline. European flights over the country’s airspace have already been suspended.
Alberto Alemanno, professor of law at HEC Paris, described this “hijacking” as the ultimate test case for the credibility of the EU foreign policy on both the world and EU stage. Either the EU will succeed in unanimously speaking and acting against Lukashenko’s Belarus and Russia — should its involvement be confirmed — or this accident could mark the end of the Union’s much-sought strategic autonomy.