Ryanair flight forced down by military jets in Belarus

Opposition journalist arrested and held by Belarus authorities

A major international incident is brewing this evening in Europe over the forcing-down of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania and the arrest of a Belarus journalist, Roman Protasevich, who has written critically about Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko and is part of the political opposition against him.  The Ryanair flight was in Belarus airspace when air traffic controllers ordered the plane to land in the Belarus capitol of Minsk because of a spurious “bomb threat.”  Military jets from Belarus were scrambled to intercept the Ryanair flight and escort it to Minsk, even though the commercial flight was closer to its destination in Vilnius than it was to the capitol of Belarus.  The plane was kept on the ground in Belarus for more than five hours while the spurious “threats” were investigated by Belarus military authorities.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the actions a “hijacking,” and called for the sanctioning of Belarus leaders responsible.  The Ryanair flight was between two NATO nations, Greece and Lithuania.  NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg denounced the hijacking by Belarus and said, “this is a serious [and] dangerous incident which requires international investigation.”  British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab echoed the NATO denunciation and said, “this outlandish action by Lukashenko will have serious implications.”

Belarus president Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and was accused of fixing the most recent election in that country in August of last year.  See if any of this sounds familiar:  Before all the ballots were counted, Lukashenko declared himself the victor and ordered that the counting of ballots stop. When President Trump was asked about the stolen election in Belarus, he replied, “I like seeing democracy. ‘Democracy’ is a very important word.”

The journalist, Protasevich, is the founder of the Belarus Telegram channel Nexta, which was used to organize anti-government protests after the disputed election last year.  He is also wanted by the government of Belarus for terrorism and faces the death penalty on charges trumped up against him by his government.

The U.S. ambassador to Belarus, Julie Fisher, condemned the hijacking of the Ryanair flight in Tweets this afternoon:  "Lukashenka and his regime today showed again its contempt for international community and its citizens," Fisher wrote. "Faking a bomb threat and sending MiG-29s to force @RyanAir to Minsk in order to arrest a @Nexta journalist on politically motivated charges is dangerous and abhorrent."

Belarus air traffic controllers were involved in the hijacking of the Ryanair flight and its forcing down by Belarus military jets.  The actions by Belarus clearly violate laws of international air travel set by the Chicago Conventions, which among other things forbids the use of military weapons against civilian aircraft traveling internationally.  It would seem that it is within the power of NATO and the European Union to ban all travel internationally to and from Belarus and to ban Belarus aircraft from landing in Europe, the United States, or anywhere else in the West.

If the international community doesn’t stand up to this Trumpian lunatic Lukashenko, no journalist flying internationally will be safe anywhere. They should demand that Protasevich be freed and allowed to travel out of the country.Unless and until that happens, no aircraft from Belarus should be permitted to land anywhere in the West.

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