Belarusian authorities appear to have forced a Ryanair jet to perform an emergency landing in Minsk in order to arrest an opposition blogger wanted for organising last summer’s protests against leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Roman Protasevich, a former editor of the influential Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, was detained by police after his flight was diverted to Minsk national airport due to a bomb threat. Minsk confirmed it had scrambled a Mig-29 fighter to escort the plane.
Protasevich has been accused of terrorism and provoking riots after the Nexta channels became one of the main conduits for organising last year’s anti-Lukashenko protests over elections fraud. Protasevich had been living in exile in 2019 and Poland had previously rejected an extradition request sent by Minsk.
Protasevich was flying on an intra-EU flight from Athens to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, when the plane was diverted to Minsk. According to online flight data, the plane was over Belarusian airspace when it diverted course but was closer to Vilnius than Minsk.
Protasevich, who has been living in exile since 2019, told colleagues earlier on Sunday he had been followed while travelling to the airport in Athens. A Russian speaker had followed him into a line at the airport and attempted to photograph his documents, he wrote to colleagues.
“He was next in line at the document check and just turned around and walked away,” he said. “For some reason, he also tried to secretly photograph my documents.” Colleagues said they had not heard from him since.