Senin, 24 Mei 2021

Global backlash at Ryanair’s ‘coward’-like response to Belarus ‘hijacking’ -

Twitter users have erupted in fury at the “weak, coward”-like response by Ryanair to a so-called “hijacking” which stunned the world earlier today.

This morning, news broke that a commercial flight on its way from Greece to Lithuania was forced to change course and land in Belarus, allegedly as part of a “shocking” and “unprecedented” plot by the country’s government to arrest one of its passengers.

That passenger was Roman Protasevich, a journalist and vocal critic of the authoritarian regime in Belarus.

International leaders have demanded swift action against Belarus, calling the incident a “hijacking” and an act of “state terrorism”.

And scores of Twitter users have also condemned Ryanair, with many vowing to boycott the Irish airline for good for giving up Mr Protasevich, who is now facing an uncertain future and even a possible death sentence.

Ryanair ‘hijacking’

Mr Protasevich, an outspoken critic of the Belarusian authoritarian regime, was aboard the commercial Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday.

The plane had left Athens for the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and was flying through Belarusian airspace when it was forced to change course and land in the capital, Minsk.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the plane to Minsk, where officers boarded it and took Mr Protasevich off the plane.

Before Belarusian security offices boarded the plane to arrest him, Mr Protasevich reportedly put his head in his hands and told others, “they’ll kill me here”.

But Ryanair’s response in the wake of the incident was to say the aircraft landed “safely” and “nothing untoward was found” – completely failing to mention the forced removal of Mr Protasevich.

‘Weak’ response

In its statement, Ryanair said Belarus air traffic control had originally notified the flight crew of a “potential security threat on board” and instructed them to “divert to the nearest airport, Minsk”.

Ryanair said it had “notified the relevant national and European safety and security agencies and we apologise sincerely to all affected passengers for this regrettable delay, which was outside Ryanair’s control”.

The airline did not acknowledge Mr Protasevich, sparking widespread anger.

Many hours later, during an interview with Newstalk radio in Ireland, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary was more explicit.

“It appears the intent of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his travelling companion, and we believe there were also some KGB agents offloaded off the aircraft,” said Mr O’Leary.

“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy.”

But those remarks came after the backlash against the airline’s initial statement.

Some Twitter posters could not believe the statement, with one tweeting: “What the f*** is this? Guys, you left 6 people in #Belarus … I will never fly with #Ryanair.”

Another Twitter user posted: “Your plane was hijacked, and two of your passengers were taken at gun point, very possibly to their deaths.”

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One Twitter user posted: “Dear @Ryanair, I’m flying from Athens to Kraków next week.

“Is there any place that I could pay an extra fee (apart from priority boarding and additional luggage) … not to be kidnapped by foreign government during the flight?

“I feel like it’s something worth (having) these days.”

Another tweeted: “the best solution would be to change the airline. Everyone should cancel Ryan Air flights.”

“Well, at least one thing is clear: #Ryanair has to suffer reputational damages for their weak, coward stance,” another replied.

“Every single person reading this can spread the word. Here’s a new motto: #Ryanair – delivering political abductions since 2021!”

International leaders have since demanded swift action against Belarus, calling the incident a “hijacking” and an act of “state terrorism”.

The flight path, as shown by FlightRadar24, suggests the plane was actually closer to Vilnius than Minsk when it changed course.

State media described the incident as a bomb scare.

Protasevich’s fate hangs in the balance

Roman Protasevich is the co-founder of Nexta, a Telegram channel which has organised protests against the Lukashenko government, which has described Nexta as “extremist”.

The government is investigating the journalist for allegations of organising mass disorder and inciting social hatred, which carry the death penalty in Belarus.

Lukashenko, who has been president for the last 25 years, has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator”.

The US, European Union and the UK do not recognise him as a legitimate leader and last year’s election, in which he supposedly took 80 per cent of the vote, has been denounced as “rigged”.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has issued an “urgent” demand for Mr Protasevich to be freed, calling Belarus’s actions “abhorrent”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the incident was “utterly unacceptable”.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described the incident as “an unprecedented, shocking act”.

Former European Council president Donald Tusk said Lukashenko had become a threat “not only to his own citizens but also to international security”.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Belarus is the most dangerous country in Europe for journalists, with hundreds arrested in the past year alone.

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2021-05-24 14:07:35Z

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