On May 23, Ryanair’s Boeing 737-8AS which was flying from Athens to Vilnius unexpectedly changed its course over the Belarusian town of Lida and headed to Minsk. At first, there were reports that the crew got the information about a bomb allegedly planted on board.
This version was shared by the press service of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. According to their statement, he personally gave the order to land the plane in Minsk; in order to ‘escort’ the passenger carrier, a MiG-29 fighter was scrambled. It should be noted that the plane was not far from the Belarusian-Lithuanian air border at that moment.
The Boeing landed at Minsk National Airport; the passengers were asked to go through another security screening. The bomb threat has been officially refuted by the airport administration, but the Belarusian authorities have detained journalist and blogger Raman Pratasevich who happened to be among the passengers. The information about his arrest has been confirmed by the notorious Main Department for Fighting Organised Crime and Corruption (GUBOPiK/GUBAZiK).
Pratasevich, a former editor at a number of anti-Lukashenka social media resources and a journalist currently contributing to My Country Belarus Telegram channel, was to return from Greece to Lithuania today; he picked up surveillance at the airport in Athens, his friends stress.
It is not ruled out that the operation of forcibly landing the Ryanair airplane was deliberately planned and performed by pro-Lukashenka secret services.
“The regime forced the landing Ryanair plane in Minsk to arrest journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich. He faces the death penalty in Belarus. We demand immediate release of Raman, ICAO investigation, and sanctions against Belarus,” Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Twitter.
In November 2020, Stsyapan Putsila, the founder of NEXTA TG channels, and Raman Pratasevich, a former deputy editor of the channels, were included in the ‘List of organisations and individuals involved in terrorist activities’ by the Belarusian authorities. The NEXTA group kept steering and controlling the protests in Belarus via channels on the web, the officials believe.
“Yes, this is not a joke. The KGB of Belarus put me on the list of terrorists. Now my name is on the same list with ISIS guys,” Raman Pratasevich commented on the situation then.
According to the journalist, he was ready to voluntarily come back to Belarus and surrender to its security forces in exchange for ‘taking Mr Lukashenka to the International Court of Justice in The Hague’.