/ 25 May 2021

Outrage over Belarus ‘hijack’

Belarus yesterday forced a Ryanair flight travelling from Athens to Lithuania to land and arrested passenger/outspoken journalist Roman Protasevich. Just minutes before the plane was to cross into Lithuanian airspace, its crew received an order from Belarus’ air traffic control to land because it said the plane was the target of a bomb threat from Palestinian militant group Hamas (which it denies). President Alexander Lukashenko also ordered a fighter jet to escort the plane to Minsk – even though it was closer to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Checks of the plane found “nothing untoward” onboard leading critics of the authoritarian president to conclude it was a ruse to detain the dissident journo.

Protasevich has been on Lukashenko’s merde list for a while… The 26yo is the former editor of the popular social media Telegram channel Nexta. It has close to 2 million subscribers and is popular with anti-government activists. Protasevich fled the country in 2019, but has continued to get on Lukashenko’s goat while living in exile in Lithuania. He was charged in November with inciting public disorder, but there are concerns that could be upgraded to terrorism, which carries the death penalty. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994 and has cracked down on dissents since his election win last August with more than 80% of the vote – a result widely seen as fraudulent.

You think? And that’s what many nations are saying, including Australia… Head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen described Lukashenko’s actions as a “hijacking” and said European leaders would discuss what “actions to take” in a meeting this morning. Not that their condemnation has bothered Belarusian officials in the past… President Lukashenko and others are already under EU sanctions resulting from their oppression of opponents.

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