Status: 07/20/2022 08:43
In May 2021, fighter jets force a civilian plane to land in Belarus – because of a bomb threat. A blogger and his girlfriend are arrested. All of this happened under false pretenses, according to ICAO, the United Nations aviation organization.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has condemned the forced landing of a Ryanair plane in Belarus in May 2021 as “unlawful interference” in aviation by the Belarusian government. This was announced by the special UN organization after evaluating the new material.
The alleged bomb threat that forced Ryanair flight FR4978 to land in Minsk was “deliberately false” and endangered the plane’s safety, the ICAO has said. The threat was sent to the flight crew “on the orders of senior Belarusian government officials”.
Intercepted on the way to Vilnius
On May 23, 2021, authorities in authoritarian Belarus forced a Ryanair plane en route from Athens to Vilnius to stop over in Minsk with a fighter jet under the pretext of a bomb threat.
There, opposition blogger Roman Protasevich, who lives in exile in Poland and Lithuania, and his Russian-born girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were arrested. Sapega was sentenced to six years in prison in May for leading an opposition channel on Telegram. At the end of June, she asked for forgiveness from Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Protasevich is currently under house arrest pending trial.
Strong criticism from the West
The procedure had sparked strong international criticism of Belarus. Members of the EU and other Western states like the United States have responded with sanctions against the country. As a result, the EU closed its airspace to planes from the former Soviet republic.
In January, four Belarusian officials were charged in absentia in the United States with the crash landing. The New York prosecutor charges them with “conspiracy to hijack the air”, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Four US citizens were among the passengers, he added.
The Russian representative raises a “firm objection”
The ICAO investigation into the forced emergency landing has been extended several times to gather missing elements. The organization recently assessed, according to its own statements, among other things, the records of the Minsk air traffic controller, who was responsible for the flight. The investigation report must now be submitted to UN Secretary General António Guterres.
According to the ICAO statement, the Russian representative on the organization’s Council raised a “strong objection” to Belarus being named as “the source of the unlawful interference”. Russia and Belarus are close allies.