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Belarus ‘hijacks’ Ryanair flight

written by Hannah Dowling | May 24, 2021

Boeing 737-800 Ryanair, pictured at Barcelona Airport (BCN) (Source: Australian Aviation archives)

Global airlines and international organisations have expressed outrage over the deliberate diversion of a Ryanair flight from Lithuania to neighbouring Belarus on Sunday, which resulted in the arrest of a political journalist.

Reports suggest that Belarusian authorities flagged a false bomb threat onboard Ryanair flight 4978 bound for Lithuania, and sent a fighter jet to instead escort the plane to Minsk in order to detain a journalist who opposed the Belarusian government.

The plane, carrying around 170 people from 12 countries, was just minutes away from crossing into Lithuanian airspace when it was suddenly diverted to the Belarusian capital, escorted by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet.

Upon landing, authorities took journalist Roman Protasevich into custody. Protasevich is reported to have become frantic in the plane’s cabin when the pilots announced the last-minute diversion to Minsk, and later remarked: “I’ll get the death penalty here”, as authorities removed him from the scene.

The 26-year-old journalist was wanted in Belarus on extremism charges, following reporting he produced for Poland-based news service NEXTA, which broadcast footage of mass protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year.

Protasevich stands accused of organising mass riots and inciting social hatred, allegations that he denies.

The remaining passengers onboard flight 4978 were forced to wait seven hours on the ground, before the plane finally took off again for Vilnius, Lithuania.


The move was heavily condemned by nations, organisations, and airlines around the world, with some world leaders labelling the incident as a “hijacking” or “act of piracy”, and in violation of international aviation laws.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said the Ryanair forced landing may have contravened the Chicago Convention, a core aviation treaty created after WWII.

“ICAO is strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair flight and its passengers, which could be in contravention of the Chicago Convention,” it said.

“We look forward to more information being officially confirmed by the countries and operators concerned.”

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association said, “We strongly condemn any interference or requirement for landing of civil aviation operations that is inconsistent with the rules of international law.

“A full investigation by competent international authorities is needed.”

In light of the incident, European officials have threatened new sanctions on Belarus, including limitation of access to airspace over the nation. Lithuania has also urged the European Union and NATO to respond.

Further, Lithuanian presidential adviser Asta Skaisgiryte has said that the operation seemed to be pre-planned.

Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive European Commission, called for the immediate release of Protasevich, and noted that anyone responsible for “the Ryanair hijacking” must be sanctioned.

Von der Leyen added that EU leaders would meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss what action to take.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called for a “full investigation” of the matter, labelling the forced landing and arrest a “shocking act”, and demanded the immediate release of Protasevich.

“Given indications the forced landing was based on false pretenses, we support the earliest possible meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to review these events,” he said in a statement.

Similarly, US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez issued a statement in conjunction with the heads of seven European parliamentary foreign affairs panels denouncing the forced landing as “an act of piracy”.

In the letter, the signatories called for a ban on all overflights of Belarus, including flights to and from the country, and for NATO and the EU to impose sanctions and suspend Belarus’ “ability to use Interpol”.

Belarus ‘hijacks’ Ryanair flight Comment

  • Karl


    Perhaps Lukashenko derived some measure of inspiration from when Austria forced a Bolivian diplomatic aircraft carrying the president of Bolivia to land in Vienna at the demand of fascist amerika —- after rumor surfaced that Snowden was on board….way back in 2013.

    Or perhaps he even derived inspiration from the uKRAPistani force-down (or ‘hijacking’, if you will) of that Belarusian (Belavia) aircraft in order to kidnap that Armenian blogger Aremen Martirosyan back in 2016……

    Yano… that force-down that not a single stooge EU ‘nation’ condemned ?

    Either way…. Lukashenko just demonstratively served notice to the fascists of the ‘west’ that such actions are not reserved for the ‘west’ alone.

    A lesson in KARMA —- what goes around, comes around.

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