A Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted and forced to land in Belarus purportedly due to a bomb threat. But it turns out that no explosives were found, and that this was allegedly a ploy to arrest Roman Protasevich, a journalist who has been very vocal against the current Belarusian regime.

Flight FR4978 was on its way from Athens to Vilnius when it was diverted to Minsk due to an alleged bomb threat. According to some media reports, Belarus allegedly scrambled fighter jets to force the plane to land in Minsk. At that time, at least 171 passengers were said to be on board the flight.

Protasevich is the former editor of Nexta media network that has played a key role in showcasing demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko who has held power in the country for 26 years. His re-election last year was viewed as a farce by many and protests have been taking place since August 2020. Many opposition leaders have been either forced into exile or have become political prisoners. There has also been a crackdown on journalist, activists and other voices of dissent.

The Lukashenko regime sees Protasevich as a close associate of opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who lives in exile in Lithuania. In a series of tweets and a statement that was broadcast online, Tsikhanouskaya demanded Protasevich’s immediate release given how he faces the death penalty in Belarus.

It is noteworthy that in April this year, the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) has added Tsikhanouskaya’s name to a list of terrorists and put her on an international terror watch list.

Protasevich’s arrest has drawn sharp criticism from not only Belarusian opposition leaders, but also the governments of Greece and Lithuania.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission called the move “utterly unacceptable” and tweeted:

European Parliament President David Sassoli has also demanded an “immediate explanation” for Belarus’s actions:

The international community too has condemned the forced landing of the plane and the arrest of the journalist:

*Feature image via Twitter account of Roman Protasevich.