The brutal and erratic leader of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, forced aRyanair flight to land in the country's capital on Sunday to arrest a prominent Belarusian opposition journalist, prompting international outrage.
A Belarus fighter jet intercepted the commercial plane flying from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, forcing it down in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Belarusian forces then arrested the leading opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich, 26, who had been living in Lithuania in exile, fearing imprisonment in his home country on charges of inciting hatred and mass disorder. If convicted, he faces more than 12 years in prison.
Lukashenko, who is often called "Europe's last dictator," personally sent the fighter jet, according to his news services. The Belarusian authorities said they had ordered the plane to land because of a bomb threat, although Ryanair said nothing was found. The top investigative agency in Belarus opened a criminal case into a false bomb threat.
Media: Protasevich and his team had been reporting from a Telegram channel. The social network is one of the country's only remaining means of uncensored communication, since most independent news organizations were forced to shut down after large-scale protests erupted over a disputed presidential election in 2020, when Lukashenko clung to power.
International reaction: Greece and Lithuania both called the forced plane landing a hijacking by the Belarusian government.