Dutch caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte has joined in the widespread condemnation of the forced landing of a Ryanair plane in Belarus on Sunday in order to arrest a dissident, calling it ‘unacceptable and unprecedented’.
The pilot of the flight, from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania, was told to land at Minsk airport because of safety issues by Belarus officials, which later proved to be groundless. On landing journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich was taken from the plane and arrested.
Protasevich is the ex-editor of opposition channel Nexta which advocates free speech and has been involved in organising demonstrations against the Alexander Lukashenko led government. He is also on a KGB list of people accused of ‘terrorist activities’. Lukashenko himself reportedly gave the order to divert the plane.
According to one passenger when told of the diversion Protasevich ‘just turned to people and said he was facing the death penalty’.
Both the European Union and the United States have demanded the immediate release of the journalist.
British MP and foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat has called on airlines to avoid Belarus airspace but Dutch carrier KLM has said the actions of the Belarus regime was no reason to stop flying over Belarus.
‘KLM has made a risk assessment and consulted government sources. KLM sees no safety risks and will operate as normal,’ a spokesman told broadcaster NOS.
Lithuanian airline Air Baltic has stopped flights across Balarus until advised otherwise.
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