Ryanair CEO says forced landing in Belarus was “state-sponsored hijacking”
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has declared that the forced landing of a Ryanair passenger airplane by Belarusian officials was a state-sponsored hijacking attempt targeting a journalist and dissident on board. O’Leary claims that the diversion of the plane was an attempt by Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko to remove the journalist from the plane and detain him. The journalist in question, Roman Protasevich, is a prominent opposition figure living in exile. Lukashenko is a highly contentious ruler and is often referred to as Europe’s last dictator due to his violent crackdown on mass protests and dissent in the wake of a fraudulent election that occurred last year.
Michal O’Leary also supported claims that the hijacking involved Belarus KGB agents. The plane was traveling through Belarusian airspace en route to Lithuania when pilots were told to land in Minsk due to a potential security threat on board. Protasevich allegedly told other passengers that he was the security risk and was currently facing the death penalty in Belarus. Protasevich was arrested during the stop, however, no explosives or other security concerns were identified. Since the incident, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and several top EU officials have demanded Protasevich’s immediate release.