Opposition Activist and Blogger Roman Protasevich Detained in Minsk After Emergency Landing on Orders of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko

Supporters of journalist Raman Pratasevich in opposition to disputed president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko claim the Belarusian government diverted Ryanair Flight 4978 destined from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, and forced the Boeing 737-8AS to make an unscheduled landing at Minsk National Airport in the capital city of Minsk via MiG-29 escort. The government’s reason for the forced landing was an alleged bomb threat, but no bomb was found. Initially, the plane and pilots were not given permission to depart after the landing.

Opposition journalist and activist Raman Pratasevich, who was aboard the aircraft, was arrested and detained about 1:00 p.m. local time. Supporters of Raman Pratasevich claim the bomb threat information was fabricated by the Belarusian government, and that Belarusian government agents boarded the plane in Athens. Journalist, blogger and activist Roman Protasevich ran an opposition social media Telegram channel called Nexta.

Raman Protasevich faces the death penalty after he and the creator of Nexta exposed police brutality during anti-government protests in 2020 in Belarus. Both were added to a list of individuals involved in terrorist activities in November 2020.

Protests erupted across Bealrus which resulted in arrests of tens of thousands of people, following the disputed 2020 Belarusian presidential election when Lukashenko sought a sixth term in office (since 1994). Russian and EU leaders warned of any external interference in Belarus’s internal affairs. The Lithuanian government has allotted a residence for main opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and other members of the Belarusian opposition in Vilnius, Lithuania. Poland also supports opposition to Lukashenko. Following the disputed election, Lukashenko is not recognized as the legitimate president of Belarus by the European Union and United States.

Belarus is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest.

https://twitter.com/flightradar24/status/1396482250812841986

Ryanair is an Irish ultra low-cost airline founded in 1984 with headquarters in Swords, Dublin. Ryanair operates from over 80 bases connecting about 35 countries across Europe and North Africa.

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https://twitter.com/Tsihanouskaya/status/1396518952843481096

https://twitter.com/Tsihanouskaya/status/1396436725027819523

Telegram channel NEXTA, used by the opposition, published messages alleging violence by law enforcement officers, which were not always accompanied by video or photo confirmation. According to Russian news source Gazeta.Ru (Gazeta.Ru), Telegram published aggressive vocabulary against law enforcement, such as “punishers” and “fascists.”

Telegram is a freeware, cross-platform, cloud-based instant messaging (IM) service, which also provides end-to-end encrypted video calling. The operational center is located in Dubai with other data centers worldwide. Telegram was launched in 2013 by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, who left Russia after their social media network VK was taken over by Vladimir Putin’s political faction. Durov claimed the VK takeover was connected to his refusal to release private information of members dedicated to the Euromaidan protest movement in Ukraine.