Belarus: Roman Protasevich appears in new video after arrest following ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ | World News

A Belarusian opposition activist arrested after the Ryanair plane he was travelling on was forced to land in Minsk in a “state-sponsored hijacking” has appeared in a new video.

Journalist Roman Protasevich’s flight from Athens in Greece was diverted from its scheduled destination of Vilnius, Lithuania, to the Belarusian capital on the orders of President Alexander Lukashenko.

In the latest footage released by Belarusian authorities, Mr Protasevich, who is a prominent critic of the dictator and is being held in jail, said he was in good health and admitted helping to organise mass protests in Minsk last year.

Wearing a dark top and with his hands tightly clasped in front of him, he added he was in a pre-trial detention facility in the capital and denied having heart problems which had been reported on social media.

Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the crew there was a bomb threat against the aircraft as it was crossing through Belarus airspace on Sunday and ordered it to land.

A Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled to escort the plane in a brazen show of force by Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for over a quarter of a century and has close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Belarusian authorities then detained 26-year-old blogger Mr Protasevich, who ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in helping organise demonstrations against the dictator. The aircraft was later allowed to continue its journey to Lithuania.

More on Alexander Lukashenko

The arrest of the dissident journalist has been strongly condemned by the UK government as well as European nations and the US.

EU leaders are currently meeting to discuss what action to take against the Belarusian regime.

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Raab demands release of Belarusian journalist

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the interception was a “shocking assault on civil aviation” and further sanctions were being considered against the administration, including the suspension of energy pipelines in Belarus.

He added the country’s ambassador in London had been summoned to the Foreign Office, as Mr Raab called for the activist’s release.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also stated Mr Protasevich should be freed and said €3bn in EU investment aid to Belarus was on hold and frozen until the country “becomes democratic”.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary called Sunday’s incident a “state-sponsored hijacking” and claimed agents from Russia’s KGB were also on board.

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Lithuania’s president calls for action

Mr O’Leary said: “I think it’s very frightening for the crew, for the passengers who were held under armed guard, had their bags searched.”

He told Newstalk: “It was clear it appears that the intent of the Russian authorities was to remove a journalist and his travelling companion.

“We believe there was also some KGB agents offloaded from the aircraft as well.”

Aircraft have now been told by the British government to avoid Belarusian airspace after the controversial incident.

And the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has suspended all foreign permits held by Belarusian carriers, including state-owned airline Belavia, following the fallout.

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