The European Union said on May 24 that Ryanair plane en route from Athens to Vilnius had made an emergency landing at Minsk airport due to a forced diversion. This was reported by the press service of the European Council.
"On 23 May, the Belarusian authorities, in an inadmissible step, forced a civilian plane to perform an emergency landing in Minsk. The plane, owned by an EU company, flying between two EU capitals and carrying more than 100 passengers, was forced to land by a Belarusian military aircraft," the message reads.
One of the flight passengers, Mr Raman Pratasevich, an independent journalist from Belarus, was retained by the Belarusian authorities and prevented from boarding the plane at the Minsk airport to its original destination. This is yet another blatant attempt by the Belarusian authorities to silence all opposition voices.
The European Council called for the immediate release of Mr Pratasevich.
It was stated that on carrying out this coercive act, the Belarusian authorities have jeopardised the safety of passengers and crew. "An international investigation into this incident must be carried out to ascertain any breach of international aviation rules."
This situation will be raised at the upcoming meeting of the European Council. The EU will consider the consequences of this action, including taking measures against those responsible.
At the same time, Ryanair told DW that the pilots had been instructed by the Belarusian authorities to fly to Minsk.
"The crew of Ryanair's flight from Athens to Vilnius was informed by the Belarusian police about a potential security threat on board, and was instructed to divert to the nearest Minsk airport," the company said in a statement.
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary told Irish radio station Newstalk that the forced landing "was a case of state-sponsored hijacking ... state-sponsored piracy" carried out to detain a dissident journalist.
Earlier, it was reported that the founder of the largest opposition telegram channel of Belarus NEXTA, journalist Roman Protasevich, was detained in Minsk.
The plane with Roman Protasevich on board flew from Athens to Vilnius. Suddenly, the plane gave a distress signal, changed course and made an emergency landing at the Minsk National Airport. The emergency landing was caused by a mining signal.
“The plane was checked, the bomb was not found, and all the passengers were sent for re-examination. Among them was the former editor of Nexta, journalist Roman Protasevich. He was detained,” the statement says.
On behalf of the commander-in-chief, a fighter was raised to accompany the passenger plane.