Brussels (dpa) – The EU has strongly condemned the emergency landing of a scheduled flight by the Belarusian authorities in Minsk and has promised sanctions against those responsible.
In addition, EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell on Monday called on behalf of all 27 EU countries for the immediate release of Belarusian journalist Roman Protassevich. His arrest is another clear attempt by the Belarusian authorities to silence all voices of the opposition.
Authorities in the authoritarian Republic of Belarus landed a plane bound for Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania on Sunday, Ryanair confirmed. According to the Wesna Human Rights Center, blogger Roman Protassewitsch, who was internationally wanted by Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko, was also on board the plane and was arrested in Minsk.
With this enforced action, Belarusian authorities would have endangered the safety of the passengers and crew, Borrell said. The incident must lead to an international investigation. The situation will also be discussed at the special EU summit, which starts Monday evening in Brussels. The EU will examine the consequences of this act, including “measures against those responsible”.
Where is Roman Protassevich?
Even a day after the crash landing, there is no official information about the whereabouts of the arrested opposition activist and blogger Protassevich. Several passengers on the Ryanair flight have confirmed the 26-year-old’s arrest in Lithuania after landing. Protassewitsch, who was wanted in his home country for inciting protests against ruler Alexander Lukashenko, was arrested at Minsk airport on Sunday. This was also announced by the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the human rights organization Wesna.
In an interview with Belarusian radio station Radio Svoboda, Protassevich’s father, Dmitri, was convinced it was a careful operation “probably not by Belarusian intelligence alone.” Russia is a close ally of Belarus. His son was on his way back from a vacation in Greece to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius when Lukashenko had to land the plane. He himself did not know when his son flew.
Dmitri Protassevich spoke of an “act of terrorism” by the ruler Lukashenko. “The operation was on a grand scale to spit on the entire international community and their minds,” said Dmitry Protassevich. Lukashenko is considered the “last dictator in Europe”. The EU has not recognized him as head of state since the controversial presidential elections on 9 August. The EU also called for the immediate release of Protassevich.
“We are very concerned about our son,” said Protassevich. “Unfortunately, we don’t know where he is or what’s going on with him. We hope for the best. “
According to Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, KGB Secret Service agents were on board the plane. “It appears the authorities intended to remove a journalist and his traveling companion (from the plane),” the Irish low-cost airline head told Irish radio station Newstalk on Monday. “We suspect that some KGB agents have also been dumped at the airport (in Minsk).” O’Leary said it was a “case of state-sponsored kidnapping, … state-sponsored piracy.”
Ryanair’s boss praised the crew for their “phenomenal job”. The incident was “very frightening” to personnel and passengers who were held for hours by gunmen. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney called on the EU to provide a “very clear answer”. The Belarus leadership lacks democratic legitimacy and behaves like a dictatorship, Coveney told RTÉ.