MOSCOW — Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the brutal and erratic president of Belarus, scrambled a fighter jet on Sunday to drive a business airplane carrying a distinguished opposition journalist to land within the capital, Minsk, so as to arrest him.
Roman Protasevich, 26, was touring aboard a Ryanair flight that was pressured to make an emergency touchdown in Minsk whereas flying over Belarus. The airplane was carrying some 170 folks of 18 nationalities from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, officers mentioned.
The motion drew fierce criticism from Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, who known as it “abhorrent” in his Twitter account and demanded that the Belarusian authorities launch Mr. Protasevich. Both Lithuania and Greece are members of the European Union.
The Belarusian authorities mentioned they took the motion after receiving details about a bomb menace on board, and did so despite the fact that Vilnius, the airplane’s ultimate vacation spot, was a lot nearer than Minsk when it was pressured down.
Belarus’s presidential information service mentioned in an announcement that Mr. Lukashenko personally ordered a MiG-29 to escort the Ryanair airplane to the Minsk airport. According to the assertion, Mr. Lukashenko gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the plane do a U-turn and land.”
The nation’s Defense Ministry mentioned in one other assertion that the nation’s air protection forces had been placed on excessive alert.
Ryanair officers weren’t instantly out there to remark concerning the incident.
Upon the airplane’s arrival in Minsk, Mr. Protasevich was arrested, the nation’s inside ministry mentioned in an announcement that was later deleted from its official Telegram channel. No bomb was discovered on board, the Minsk airport’s information service said, in accordance to Mlyn.by, a neighborhood information web site.
Mr. Protasevich is a co-founder and a former editor of the NEXTA Telegram channel, probably the most in style opposition shops in Belarus, the place most unbiased media organizations had been pressured to shut down following large-scale protests that convulsed the nation following a disputed presidential election in 2020.
Over the previous few years, Mr. Protasevich has been residing in Lithuania in exile, fearing imprisonment in Belarus, his dwelling nation, the place he’s accused of inciting hatred and mass dysfunction and faces greater than 12 years in jail if convicted. In November, the nation’s predominant safety service, nonetheless known as the Ok.G.B., put Mr. Protasevich on its record of terrorists.
Mr. Protasevich’s arrest comes months after the most important wave of avenue protests within the historical past of Belarus failed to depose Mr. Lukashenko, who has been ruling the nation with an iron fist for over 26 years.
More than 32,000 protesters had been arrested and not less than 4 died throughout the protests. Hundreds had been brutally overwhelmed by the police. NEXTA emerged because the main outlet coordinating the demonstrations.
Backed by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and utilizing violence unseen in Europe for many years, Mr. Lukashenko managed to efficiently crack down on protesters, with the nation’s safety equipment remaining loyal to him.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Mr. Lukashenko’s main opponent over the last presidential election in August, which was broadly considered rigged, known as the episode with the Ryanair flight “an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.”
“Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety,” she mentioned.