Belarusian police arrested journalist and opposition activist Roman Protasevich after diverting his Ryanair flight headed to Lithuania from Greece on May 23.
Ryanair said in a statement that the Belarus Air Traffic Control notified the crew of “a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk.”
However, the flight path as shown on the Flightradar24 website suggested that the plane was nearer to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius than Minsk when it turned.
The government said it rerouted Protasevich’s flight to Minsk International Airport for an emergency landing due to a bomb alert.
Belarusian officials confirmed that President Alexander Lukanshenko had personally ordered his military to scramble a MIG-29 fighter jet to escort the plane.
According to an airport spokesperson, authorities did not find any explosive after conducting a search.
The “hijacking” of the plane and the arrest of Protasevich sparked condemnation from several government leaders around the world and they demanded for his release.
Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who lost the presidential polls last year widely denounced as rigged and has fled into exile, urged the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate.
“Forcing Ryanair plane to land to detain Raman Protasevich is the result of the regime’s impunity. This is a real internal occupation,” Tikhanovskaya said.
Lithuania called the move an “act of state terrorism” and urged the European Union to “take effective measures.”
“The outrageous and illegal behavior of the regime in Belarus will have consequences,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter, adding that the commission will hold discussions on the actions to take in response to the move.
The plane, which had 171 passengers, landed in Vilnius at 9:25 p.m. local time, over seven hours after its scheduled arrival.
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