European countries, the United States and the United Nations have condemned Belarus after authorities there forced a passenger plane carrying a wanted journalist to divert and land in its capital.
In what was described by some European Union leaders as a “hijacking”, the Ryanair passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday was suddenly diverted to Minsk and escorted there by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet.
After landing, authorities took journalist Roman Protasevich into custody.
Protasevich is accused of “extremism” in Belarus, of organising riots and inciting hatred – charges relating to his involvement in mass anti-government rallies and which could see him jailed. He denies the allegations.
He used the messaging app Telegram to broadcast footage of the protests as Belarus cracked down on media organisations.
Sunday’s incident comes as the EU is set to discuss toughening its existing sanctions against Belarus, imposed over President Alexander Lukashenko’s crackdown on opposition protesters, at a preplanned summit on Monday.
Authorities in Belarus have insisted they acted legally.
“There is no doubt that the actions of our competent authorities … fully met established international rules,” foreign ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said in a statement on Monday, accusing the West of “politicising” the situation.
“Unfounded accusations are being made,” he said.
Russia, Belarus’s main ally, dismissed the West’s furious response as hypocritical. Here