Netherlands: Belarus forcing plane to land to arrest activist journalist “unacceptable”
Dutch politicians have slammed Belarus for forcing a Ryanair flight bound for Lithuania to land in Minsk so that a notable opposition journalist could be arrested. Roman Protasevich was detained in the Belarusian capital on Sunday when the flight from Athens to Vilnius was escorted by a fighter jet the Minsk National Airport after it entered Belarusian airspace on the last portion of the flight, international media reported.
Authorities in Belarus instructed the passenger jet to land claiming there was a bomb threat made. Monika Simkiene was on the flight. She told AFP that Protasevich was concerned about his fate should he be arrested. "He just turned to people and said he was facing the death penalty." When the flight landed, all passengers were removed from the flight, and Protasevich was taken into custody for his role in opposition protests in Belarus last year.
No bomb was found on the aircraft, and the passengers were allowed to board the aircraft for departure to its destination in Lithuania while Protasevich was forced to remain in custody in Minsk
“Unprecedented and unacceptable diversion of Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, which was forced to land in Minsk. ALL passengers must be able to continue their travel to Vilnius immediately and safely. Any violation of international air transport rules must be investigated,“ caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte wrote in English on his Twitter page.
Rutte’s condemnation of Belarus was shared by Stef Blok, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Belarus' interception of a civilian airliner and the arrest of Roman Protasevich are completely unacceptable. All passengers must be allowed to leave the country immediately,” he wrote. “We will coordinate a strong European response. Belarus must halt all repression against its citizens.”
D66 parliament member Sjoerd Sjoersma went a step further, suggested banning flights of the Belarusian national airline from European airspace. “No Belavia planes flying over Europe or landing at European capitals until this is resolved,” he wrote.
The Belarus action against a passenger jet sparked international condemnation. Among the most harsh statements made was that of Mateusz Morawiecki, the Prime Minister of Poland, who wrote, “I condemn in the strongest terms the detention of Roman Protasevich by Belarussian authorities, after a Ryanair passenger aircraft was hijacked. This is a reprehensible act of state terrorism.”
In a statement, Ryanair said the crew had been "notified by Belarus (Air Traffic Control) of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk". According to the flight path shown on the Flightradar24 website, the plane was actually closer to Lithuanian capital than Minsk when it turned.
Ryanair claimed that "nothing untoward" was discovered during checks in Minsk, and made no mention of Protasevich. The plane landed in Vilnius at 9.30 p.m. local time