What happened in Minsk and how Belarus to punish oppositional Nexta journalist?

Author : News Agency

Source : 112 Ukraine

On Sunday, May 23, a Ryanair plane urgently landed in Minsk due to a message about mining in Minsk. All passengers, among whom was Roman Pratasevich, the former editor-in-chief of the opposition Telegram channel NEXTA and one of the coordinators of numerous protests against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, were sent for re-examination.
11:23, 26 May 2021

Roman Protasevich
Open source

As a result, the information about the bomb on board the aircraft was not confirmed and the plane continued on its way to Vilnius. However, without Pratasevich – he was detained at the airport by the Belarusian security forces.

What happened in the sky over Minsk on Sunday, May 23, and how the detention of an opposition journalist can turn out for Belarus, read further in our material.

Related: Foreign Ministry of Belarus comments on situation with Ryanair flight

Latest news

- The airport "Lviv" will lose about 1 million hryvnias per month from the termination of flights with Minsk. According to the general director of the airport, Tatyana Romanovskaya, this will be a tangible loss after the pandemic. Meanwhile, Zhulyany warned that Belavia's flight to Minsk, which was scheduled for the evening, was questionable.

- Minsk reacted to the decision to terminate flights between Ukraine and Belarus by sending a note of protest to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. The document notes that "the Belarusian side was surprised to accept the decision of the Ukrainian side."

- The Russian Federation denied statements about the involvement of the Russian Federation in the landing of Ryanair in Belarus. Earlier, the British Foreign Minister said that it is difficult to believe that Russia was not involved in the situation with the forced landing of the Ryanair plane in Minsk, but London does not yet have clear evidence of Moscow's involvement.

- Lithuania proposed to introduce economic sanctions against Belarus. Foreign Minister Gabrielus Landsbergis noted that such restrictions are imposed by the decision of the heads of the EU Council. Vilnius itself cannot take such a step.

- UKRAINE WILL STOP AIR COMMUNICATION WITH BELARUS ON MIDNIGHT MAY 26. At an extraordinary meeting of the government on Tuesday, May 25, Prime Minister Denys Shmygal instructed the Ministry of Infrastructure, the State Aviation Service and the State Enterprise "UkSATSE" to take the necessary measures for this. As you know, on the eve of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy instructed the Cabinet of Ministers to prepare a decision on the termination of flights between Ukraine and Belarus.

- One of the founders of Nexta, Stepan Putilo, said that after the arrest of Roman Pratasevich, the editorial office of the Telegram channel began to receive threats “that we are next, that you may not be taken to Belarus, but they will kill you on the spot, shoot you,” that the office will be blown up and so on." Putilo recalled that the editorial office received similar threats in August 2020, when mass protests began in Belarus after the presidential elections.

- Late in the evening, on May 24, a video with Pratasevich appeared on the network. The detainee stated that he cooperates with the investigation and gives confessions.

Another strange incident occurred at the Minsk airport: on May 24, the departure of a Lufthansa flight Minsk - Frankfurt was delayed there because of an email about a possible terrorist attack. As in the case of Ryanair, the information about the bomb on board the aircraft was not confirmed according to the results of the check.

- The Belarusian Foreign Ministry gave an official comment on the incident with the Ryanair plane. The department said that the incident should be looked at from a safety point of view, and advised to wait for the conclusions of competent experts.

- Lukashenko signed a law that allows you to disconnect communications throughout Belarus in the event of a threat to national security. In addition, he signed a number of documents that amend the laws on the media and public events. In particular, it is now prohibited in Belarus to cover uncoordinated protest actions online, and the Ministry of Information may, by its decision, close the media outlets. Read more about this in our article: "Breaking Bad: What Lukashenko Banned To Protesters And Online Media In Belarus".

- Belarus has decided to expel all employees of the Latvian Embassy. This is due to the fact that the mayor of Riga, on the flag alley of the participating states of the hockey forum, changed the state flag of Belarus to a white-red-white flag, known as a symbol of protests against the Lukashenko regime.

Related: Ukraine offers foreign companies to fly past Belarus through its air space

What happened?

Ryanair was flying from Athens to Vilnius. A few minutes before the crossing of the Lithuanian border, the liner suddenly gave a distress signal, changed course and made an emergency landing at the Minsk National Airport.

"The plane landed because of a message about mining. The pilots requested a landing at the Minsk National Airport, the landing was successful ... The message about mining has not yet been confirmed," the press secretary of the airport Romina Samatkhanova commented on the situation.

Meanwhile, the media reported on the detention of Pratasevich by the Belarusian security forces. The latter, while still in Athens, managed to report that at the airport before landing it seemed to him that he was being watched by a man who gave the impression of a state security officer of the Lukashenko regime.

Related: White House plans sanctions against Belarus, - Psaki

The Pool of the First Telegram channel, close to Lukashenko’s administration, wrote that “on the instructions of the commander-in-chief (that is, Lukashenko, - ed.), A MiG-29 fighter was raised to escort a passenger plane into the sky”. The information that the aircraft was accompanied by a Belarusian military aircraft was later confirmed by the country's defense department.

Although the international community has a different opinion about this situation. For example, the European Union said in a statement that the fighter "forced" the airliner to land in Minsk.

"An aircraft belonging to an EU company flew between the two EU capitals and carried more than 100 passengers, forcing a Belarusian military plane to land ... By implementing this act of coercion, the Belarusian authorities endangered the safety of passengers and crew," the statement says.

The media also featured a version that they decided to land the plane in Minsk because of a conflict between a crew member and a passenger, however, according to one of the passengers on the flight, there was no conflict.

After landing, all the passengers were taken out of the plane, Pratasevich was taken aside, and his belongings were taken to the runway.

“We asked him what was going on. He (Pratasevich, - ed.) said who he was and added: The death penalty awaits me here. He was already calmer, but trembling. An officer was standing next to him all the time, and soon the military simply took him out," one of the passengers said.

Related: Embassy of Belarus sent note of protest to Ukraine over decision to suspend flight

Telegram channel "Belarus Golovnogo Mozga", which was recently hosted by Pratasevich, notes that there is no particular panic around the incident. He described the moment of evacuation of people from the plane as follows: "Everything is done very slowly, people are not evacuated, but released from the allegedly mined plane one by one."

According to the Russian Air Force service, in addition to Pratasevich, a 23-year-old Russian woman was detained in Minsk. The media immediately suggested that it could be about Sophia Sapieha, the oppositionist's girlfriend.

She is studying for a master's degree at the European Humanities University in Vilnius under the program "International and European Union Law". On May 24, a statement in support of Sophia appeared on the website of the educational institution.

The head of Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, called the emergency landing of the plane "state hijacking" and "air piracy" by the Belarusian authorities.

"It seems that the intention of the authorities was to detain the journalist and his companion," O'Leary quoted Newstalk as saying.

The head of Ryanair also suggested that there were agents of the Belarusian KGB on board the liner, who got off the flight in Minsk.

It is now known that after the Ryanair plane landed in Lithuania, two Belarusians and four Russians were missing on the flight.

Related: Lithuania proposes to impose economic sanctions against Belarus

Who is Roman Pratasevich?

Pratasevich was one of the coordinators of the mass protests that erupted in Belarus after the presidential elections in August 2020 and the announcement of the victory of Alexander Lukashenko.

The detainee is the founder and former editor-in-chief of the opposition telegram channel NEXTA, recognized as extremist in Belarus. The channel actively and in detail covered the course of the protests, announced the holding of new actions.

In Belarus, Pratasevich and another founder of NEXTA – Stepan Putilo – are included in the list of people involved in terrorism.

Related: Lukashenko signs law that would cut off communications in Belarus

Recently Pratasevich lived in Vilnius and hosted the telegram channel "Belarus Golovnogo Mozga".

International reaction. Requirements and threats of sanctions

The world community, outraged by the incident, demands the immediate release of Pratasevich and threatens the official Minsk with sanctions.

In connection with the incident, the United States proposed to convene a meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The State Department also condemned the arbitrary detention of journalists by the Belarusian authorities and demanded the release of Pratasevich.

President of the European People's Party, former President of the European Council Donald Tusk said that this "act of state terrorism" requires an immediate and tough response from all European governments and institutions.

Related: Zelensky orders govt to get ready for shutting down air traffic between Ukraine and Belarus

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called the incident a "disgusting incident", behind which is the Belarusian regime. He called on NATO and the EU to respond to the threat of international civil aviation to Belarus.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg assured that the Alliance is "watching closely" the situation and called for an international investigation into the incident.

Ukraine regarded the detention of Pratasevich as an attack on freedom of speech by the Belarusian authorities and demanded the immediate release of the oppositionist.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki condemned the detention of the journalist, in connection with this, the Belarusian ambassador was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Czech Republic also intends to take a similar step.

State Secretary of the German Foreign Ministry Miguel Berger demanded explanations from the Belarusian authorities "about the redirection of the Ryanair flight within the EU to Minsk and the alleged detention of the journalist." France insists on the need for a decisive response from Europe.

As a result of the meeting of the European Council on May 24, it became known that the EU states decided to "punish" Belarus with sanctions.

Thus, the Council of the European Union called on all air carriers from the EU to avoid flights over the territory of Belarus. Belarusian airlines will be banned from flights in EU airspace and the use of European airports.

Brussels also called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate "this unprecedented and unacceptable incident."

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