Belarus ‘Hijacked’ Passenger Flight To Arrest A Journalist; EU Imposed Sanctions On Belarus

by Shatakshi Gupta

Western countries are blatantly condemning the arrest of the 26-year-old journalist, Roman Protasevich, on Monday on the orders of President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. Many world leaders including US president Joe Biden described it as a shameful incident. In addition, the US President supported taking several actions, including economic sanctions, on behalf of the European Union on Belarus. He also instructed his administration to identify the people responsible for the incident. Biden said the United States stands with the countries that demand the journalist’s release as well as the hundreds of prisoners who have been unethically arrested during Lukashenko’s rule.

What is the issue?

On Sunday,a rumourof a bomb was spread in a commercial plane to arrest the journalist. The aircraft was then forcibly landed by sending fighter jet MiG-29s.  After this, 60 army personnel reached the spot and arrested the journalist. The whole drama was created to arrest the biggest critic of the incumbent government of Belarus. According to the information, the entire plan was executed on the orders of President Alexander Lukashenko.

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Belarus is under political instability since August last year when a controversial presidential election declared Lukashenko, its ruler for more than 25 years and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the winner for the sixth consecutive term. The east European country subsequently observed protests for months, and the state has since been accused of ruthlessly suppressing dissent.

Who is Roman Protasevich?

Roman is the co-founder of the NEXTA media outlet on the social media platform Telegram. As per the information, Roman also formed a social networking group to oppose the president, which was hacked in 2012 at the behest of the government. Roman was then a student of journalism at the State University of Belarus.  But he was expelled from the university after he took part in a protest against the government. He wascharged for inciting riots and treason. However, the court acquitted him of all the offences.

After this, in 2019 Roman moved to Poland. In January 2020, he sought political asylum from Poland. Then he started running a YouTube channel named NEXTA.  This channel shows anti-Belarus news. Last year, the channel had shown a lot of news against the President of Belarus. After which the government of Belarus had filed several cases against Roman.  Then sentenced him to death, calling him a terrorist.

How the arrest took place after the hijacking?

 Roman was returning to Lithuania from Athens, where he had been attending an economic conference with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarusian opposition politician who claims to be the winner of the last presidential election.

Protasevich had taken a Ryanair flight for a three-hour journey. However, when the plane approached the border between Lithuania and Belarus, a MiG-29 fighter plane intercepted it and made it land in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

As per the statement of the aviation Company, its crew was notified by Belarus (Air Traffic Control) of a potential security threat on board and the flight was instructed to divert to the nearest airport, Minsk.

Incident attracts international criticism

Belarus has been criticized by the European Union, Germany, France, Britain and the United States over the arrest of the journalist. German Foreign Minister Haikou Maas called the incident a ‘hijack’. He said, arresting someone like this by spreading the rumour of a bomb is a serious concern. The European Union and the French government have sought a reply from Belarus. Whereas, the US Secretary of State demanded the immediate release of the journalist.

After this, Western countries prepared to impose sanctions on Belarus and cut off its aviation links on Monday. The act was denounced as ‘state piracy’. At a meeting in Brussels, the member states decided that EU airlines will not fly over Belarus, and planned further economic sanctions.