Senin, 24 Mei 2021

Ryanair ‘hijacking’: Belarus releases video of Roman Protasevich, EU promises more sanctions -

The fallout from Belarus’s “hijacking” of a Ryanair flight is growing, with the airline sharpening its account of the incident and the European Union announcing new measures designed to punish the country’s authoritarian regime.

On Sunday, a plane travelling from Athens to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius was diverted as it passed over Belarusian airspace.

The crew was notified of a supposed bomb threat on board, and Belarus air traffic control directed the flight to land in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to “escort” the commercial flight into Minsk.

It was on the ground for five hours. No threat was found, but Belarusian authorities arrested one of the passengers – journalist Roman Protasevich, who is a critic of the government. They also detained his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

International leaders responded to the incident by accusing Belarus of “state terrorism”.

RELATED: ‘Insane’ plot forces Ryanair plane to land

Today Belarusian authorities released brief video footage of Mr Protasevich, in which he speaks to the camera. It was played on state TV.

In the 30-second clip, the journalist says he is being held in a pre-trial detention centre. He says the guards are treating him lawfully, and then confesses to organising mass disorder.

Mr Protasevich also denies unconfirmed reports, relayed by his mother to the Polish TV channel Belsat, that he’d been hospitalised with “heart problems”.

She said the information had come to her from “people in the medical community”, but she did not know whether or not it was true.

“I can declare that I have no health problems, including with my heart and any other organs. The officers are treating me with the utmost correctness and according to the law,” he says in the video.

“I’m continuing to co-operate with the investigation and confess to the fact of organising mass riots in the city of Minsk.”

Critics of the Belarusian regime dismissed the confession, saying it was made under duress.

Opposition Leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile, demanded Mr Protasevich’s “immediate release”.

Her demand was amplified by the leaders of the European Union, who held a European Council meeting today.

Describing the forced diversion of the Ryanair flight as “unprecedented and unacceptable”, the EU called on all airlines based within the bloc to avoid flying over Belarus, and said it would take the steps required to ban Belarusian airlines from using EU airspace or airports.

It promised to announce additional economic sanctions “as soon as possible”, plus sanctions targeted at relevant “persons and entities”.

Meanwhile, Ryanair set about fixing its widely panned initial response to the hijacking, which made no mention of the fact that two of its passengers had been detained.

“Ryanair condemns the unlawful actions of Belarusian authorities who diverted Flight FR4978 to Minsk yesterday, which was an act of aviation piracy,” the airline said in its “updated” statement.

“This is now being dealt with by EU safety and security agencies and NATO. Ryanair is fully co-operating with them and we cannot comment further for security reasons.”

Speaking to Irish radio, CEO Michael O’Leary said he believed Belarusian KGB agents were on board the flight.

“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,” he said.

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

Some passengers on the flight have spoken to the media about what they witnessed.

Raselle Grigoryeva, 37, told ABC News the crew had not explained why they were being diverted to Minsk. At one point, the plane suddenly entered a sharp dive.

“We all on the plane had panicked because we thought we were going to crash,” said Ms Grigoryeva.

“This was a sudden dive, changing the altitude very drastically. It was very violent. I’ve never felt this on an aeroplane, everybody was in shock.”

While the plane was grounded in Minsk, she said, some passengers discussed the idea of refusing to get back on board until Mr Protasevich was released. However, they were afraid they might be arrested as well.

Another passenger told Delfi, a Lithuanian news outlet, that Mr Protasevich became panicked when he realised where they were being taken. He told them the death penalty awaited him in Belarus.

Mr Protasevich is the co-founder of Nexta, a Telegram channel which has been used to organise protests against the Belarusian government. Last year authorities announced he was being investigated on charges of disrupting the social order, organising mass disorder and inciting social hatred.

The Belarusian President, Lukashenko, has been in office since 1994, and is sometimes referred to as “Europe’s last dictator”.

Last year he claimed victory in an election widely denounced as rigged, in which he supposedly got 80 per cent of the vote. The United States, European Union and United Kingdom do not recognise him as the nation’s legitimate leader.

The election result sparked widespread protests, which Lukashenko cracked down on. Many figures critical of the regime have been jailed, while others have fled the country. Hundreds of journalists have been arrested in the past year.

Today, Lukashenko signed new laws designed to stamp out public dissent to an even greater extent. The laws make it illegal for people to livestream “unauthorised” protests or post links to banned information online.

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2021-05-24 22:02:02Z

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