Belarus’ interception of a commercial flight Sunday in order to arrest Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old Lithuania-based dissident blogger has triggered global outrage and condemnation.
Protasevich faces charges of inciting mass rallies in Belarus following last summer’s disputed presidential election which triggered an unprecedented wave of protest across the country.
The EU has already hit Belarus with a sweeping travel ban, blocking access to its airspace and urging European airlines to avoid the country.
Here’s what’s happened so far:
- Belarus forced Ryanair flight FR4978, travelling from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, to make an emergency landing at Minsk airport Sunday afternoon, citing a bomb threat.
- Strongman President Alexander Lukashenko deployed a MiG-29 fighter jet to intercept the commercial airline just minutes before it was set to leave Belarusian air space and start its descent into Vilnius.
- Protasevich was detained after the plane landed in Minsk. He faces charges of organizing the mass protests which erupted across the country last year following a disputed presidential election — charges which carry a maximum penalty of 15 years.
- The 27-member bloc also said it would hit Belarus with “targeted economic sanctions” and add more individuals and businesses to a list of sanctioned entities, banning them from travelling to Europe and doing business with European firms.
- The EU already has sanctions in place against 88 figures and seven companies, put in place in response to the crackdown on opposition launched last year ahead of, and after, the disputed August 2020 presidential election.
- Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has backed the sanctions against Minsk. In a call with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan she said she had “called on the U.S. to isolate the regime, pressure it through sanctions, support Belarusians and hold a high-level international conference on resolving the crisis.” She also called on the Belarusian opposition to be invited to next months’ G7 meeting in Britain.
AFP contributed reporting.