Ryanair flight diversion by Belarusian authorities for detention of journalist

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Publication Date 2021
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Information Guide concerning the forced landing of a Ryanair aircraft crossing Belarusian airspace, followed by the detention by Belarus authorities of journalist Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.

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On 23 May 2021, authorities in Belarus forced Ryanair flight FR4978 to undertake an emergency landing in Minsk, citing a bomb threat. The aircraft was flying from Athens to Vilnius and carried 171 passengers, among them Belarusian journalist and political dissident Raman Pratasevich, together with his partner Sofia Sapega. A MiG-29 fighter jet was ordered to accompany the passenger plane as it diverted from its original route.

Once the plane landed at the airport, Mr Pratasevich was taken into custody by authorities, together with Ms Sapega. No explosives were found in the aircraft and some hours later the remaining passengers were allowed to conclude their journey.

Rama Pratasevich is a co-founder of Nexta channel on Telegram, which was an important tool in the protests against the Belarusian regime and its leader, Alexander Lukashenko in the aftermath of a presidential election in 2020. Media outlets reported that the journalist promptly realised the potential consequences for the flight diversion to Minsk - he is on a terrorist watch list drawn up by the country's State Security Committee (KGB).

The episode led to strong criticism from opposition figures and international condemnation from the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA). The European Council decided on 24 May on a number of measures to apply pressure on the regime for the release of the two individuals. These measures included further sanctions and a ban on Belarusian airlines using EU airspace and airports. A number of companies also decided to stop using the country's airspace for their flights.

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Commentary and Analysis
Amnesty International: News, 23/05/2021: Belarus: Journalist apprehended in Minsk airport after emergency landing must be released immediately https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/05/belarus-journalist-apprehended-in-minsk-airport-after-emergency-landing-must-be-released-immediately/
Deutsche Welle, 24/05/2021: Why Lukashenko diverted a plane to catch Belarusian blogger https://p.dw.com/p/3tt0S
The Irish Times, 24/05/2021: Who is the journalist Belarus arrested by forcing a Ryanair plane to land? https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/who-is-the-journalist-belarus-arrested-by-forcing-a-ryanair-plane-to-land-1.4573382
The Atlantic: Ideas, 24/05/2021: Other Regimes Will Hijack Planes Too https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/05/belarus-lukashenko-hijack-plane-precedent-dictators/618971/
TIME Magazine, 24/05/2021: A Bomb Threat and a MiG Fighter: How Belarus ‘Hijacked’ a Commercial Plane to Snatch a Government Critic https://time.com/6050729/belarus-journalist-detained/
Lawfare Institute: Blog, 24/05/2021: Belarus and the Hijacking of Ryanair Flight FR4978: A Preliminary International Law Analysis https://www.lawfareblog.com/belarus-and-hijacking-ryanair-flight-fr4978-preliminary-international-law-analysis
Politico, 24/05/2021: Why the Belarusian journalist was snatched from the Ryanair flight https://www.politico.eu/article/journalist-roman-protasevich-belarusian-hijacking-ryanair-belarus-svetlana-tikhanovskaya/
Foreign Policy, 24/05/2021: Belarus Is Becoming Europe’s North Korea https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/05/24/belarus-ryanair-flight-roman-protasevich-lithuania-north-korea/
New Statesman, 24/05/2021: Belarus’s Ryanair flight hijacking: how will the world respond? https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/2021/05/belarus-s-ryanair-flight-hijacking-how-will-world-respond
ERR News, 25/05/2021: Think-tank chief: Ryanair hijacking act of state terrorism https://news.err.ee/1608223774/think-tank-chief-ryanair-hijacking-act-of-state-terrorism
Euro|topics, May 2021: How to respond to plane hijacking by Belarus? https://www.eurotopics.net/en/261661/

Deutsche Welle, 23/05/2021: Belarus diverts Ryanair plane to arrest activist journalist https://p.dw.com/p/3tpYe
The Economist, 23/05/2021: Outrage mounts at Belarus’s use of air piracy in aid of repression https://www.economist.com/europe/2021/05/23/outrage-mounts-at-belaruss-use-of-air-piracy-in-aid-of-repression
Politico, 23/05/2021: U.S. condemns Belarus for forcing down passenger plane to arrest foe https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/23/belarus-plane-arrest-opponent-490430
RFE/RL, 23/05/2021: EU Leaders Call For Sanctions Against Belarus Over Ryanair 'Hijacking' To Detain Journalist https://www.rferl.org/a/31269653.html
Politico, 23/05/2021: EU blasts Belarus for ‘hijack’ of airliner and arrest of activist https://www.politico.eu/article/belarus-journalist-arrest-roman-protasevich-diverted-flight-minsk/
France24, 24/05/2021: Global outrage after Belarus diverts Ryanair flight to detain opposition journalist https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20210524-global-outrage-after-belarus-diverts-ryanair-flight-to-detain-journalist
Deutsche Welle, 24/05/2021: EU imposes sanctions on Belarus after plane diversion https://p.dw.com/p/3ttAX
EurActiv, 24/05/2021: Belarus ‘state terrorism’ suddenly tops the agenda as EU leaders meet https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/belarus-state-terrorism-suddenly-tops-the-agenda-as-eu-leaders-meet/
Times of Israel, 24/05/2021: Belarus claims it forced Ryanair plane to land because of Hamas threat https://www.timesofisrael.com/belarus-claims-it-forced-ryanair-plane-to-land-because-of-hamas-threat/
EurActiv, 24/05/2021: Minutes to touchdown: the moment the Belarusian journalist knew his time was up https://www.euractiv.com/section/digital/news/minutes-to-touchdown-the-moment-the-belarusian-journalist-knew-his-time-was-up/
Balkan Insight, 24/05/2021: Poland to open investigation into Belarus hijacking of Ryanair flight https://balkaninsight.com/2021/05/24/poland-to-open-investigation-into-belarus-hijacking-of-ryanair-flight/
VOA News, 24/05/2021: US, EU Accuse Belarus of Terrorism After Plane Diverted to Arrest Journalist https://www.voanews.com/europe/us-eu-accuse-belarus-terrorism-after-plane-diverted-arrest-journalist
EurActiv, 24/05/2021: Vilnius university says its student travelling with Protasevich also detained, demands release https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/vilnius-university-says-its-student-travelling-with-protasevich-also-detained-demands-release/
EurActiv, 24/05/2021: Global aviation stunned by Belarus jetliner diversion https://www.euractiv.com/section/aviation/news/global-aviation-stunned-by-belarus-jetliner-diversion/
PBS News, 24/05/2021: EU sanctions Belarus for arresting journalist in Ryanair ‘hijacking’ https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/eu-sanctions-belarus-for-arresting-journalist-in-ryanair-hijacking
BBC News, 24/05/2021: Western powers voice outrage as Belarus accused of hijacking plane https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57224452
ERR News, 24/05/2021: Kaljulaid: EU citizens can no longer consider Belarus a safe space https://news.err.ee/1608223219/kaljulaid-eu-citizens-can-no-longer-consider-belarus-a-safe-space
RTÉ News, 25/05/2021: Belarus activist appears in video 'confessing' to charges https://www.rte.ie/news/world/2021/0524/1223554-belarus-ryanair-flight/
Euronews, 25/05/2021: EU leaders agree on Belarus sanctions over flight 'hijacking' as Roman Protasevich appears in video https://www.euronews.com/2021/05/23/ryanair-flight-diverted-to-belarus-journalist-arrested-on-arrival
Associated Press, 25/05/2021: EU leaders agree on Belarus sanctions after plane diversion https://apnews.com/article/belarus-plane-pratasevich-lukashenko-a9d32d02caea49c880ed1b7a5872e5f7
EurActiv, 25/05/2021: EU leaders agree to pile sanctions on Belarus over jetliner ‘state piracy’ https://www.euractiv.com/section/europe-s-east/news/eu-leaders-agree-to-pile-sanctions-on-belarus-over-jetliner-state-piracy/
BBC News, 25/05/2021: EU agrees new Belarus sanctions after plane arrest https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57236489
The Guardian, 25/05/2021: EU imposes new economic sanctions on Belarus over ‘hijacked’ flight https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/24/belarus-put-on-notice-of-sanctions-over-hijack-of-ryanair-flight
Reuters, 25/05/2021: Belarus faces new sanctions over jetliner ‘state piracy,’ arrest of journalist https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/fury-over-state-piracy-west-weighs-action-against-belarus-2021-05-24/

European Council: Press Release, 23/05/2021: Communiqué of European Council President Charles Michel on the incident involving a forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus, on 23 May https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/05/23/communique-of-european-council-president-charles-michel-on-the-incident-involving-a-forced-landing-of-a-ryanair-flight-in-minsk-belarus-on-23-may/
United Nations: News, 24/05/2021: Guterres deeply concerned over ‘forced landing’ and arrest of Belarus opposition journalist, as condemnation grows https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/05/1092642
Council of the European Union: Press Release, 24/05/2021: Belarus: Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 to Minsk on 23 May 2021 https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/05/24/belarus-declaration-by-the-high-representative-on-behalf-of-the-eu-on-the-forced-diversion-of-ryanair-flight-fr4978-to-minsk-on-23-may-2021/
European Council: Press Release, 24/05/2021: European Council conclusions on Belarus, 24 May 2021 https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/05/24/european-council-conclusions-on-belarus-24-may-2021/

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