Journalist Arrested After Plane Forced Down in Belarus

EU leaders speak out against the action, which was ordered by the country's authoritarian leader
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2021 3:35 PM CDT
Belarus President Forces Passenger Jet to Land
Belarus police detain journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk, Belarus, in 2017.   (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

(Newser) – Belarus forced down an airliner carrying a dissident who co-founded a media outlet popular with the political opposition, the New York Times reports. Roman Protasevich, the journalist and activist, was traveling from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, where he was living in exile. But the Ryanair flight with about 170 passengers was forced to land in Minsk. Under the pretext of responding to a bomb threat, Alexsander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, sent a bomber to escort the plane to the Belarusian capital, where Protasevich was arrested. Lukashenko is the first and only president of Belarus, in power since 1994, longer than Protasevich, 26, has been alive.

Protasevich ran reports of police brutality in Belarus on his Telegram channel Nexta. It was on that channel that he said he believed he was under surveillance, the Washington Post reports. Political leaders in the EU expressed shock that a flight between two European cities could be forcibly diverted. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called it an “act of state terrorism” on Twitter. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, also took to Twitter, calling for an international investigation. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the event was “utterly unacceptable” and called for consequences, Politico reports. (Read more Alexander Lukashenko stories.)

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