September 30, 2023


Belarus’ diversion of a Ryanair flight, which led to the arrest of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega, was “an act of unlawful interference,” the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has said.

On May 23, 2021, Belarusian authorities reported a bomb threat against a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, and forced it to land in Minsk. Protasevich and Sapega were arrested on the ground.

“The ICAO Council acknowledged that the bomb threat against Ryanair Flight FR4978 was deliberately false and endangered its safety,” the statement reads. The agency added that the threat “was communicated to the flight crew upon the instructions of senior government officials of Belarus.”

The ICAO, a United Nations agency, has now concluded its investigation, after extending the probe in January in part due to missing information from Belarusian authorities. The ICAO only looked into aviation matters and did not draw conclusions on the arrests.

One dissenting opinion came from Russia, a long-standing ally of Belarus. “The Council Representative for the Russian Federation meanwhile expressed his State’s strong objection to identifying Belarus as the source of the unlawful interference which took place,” the statement says.

Minsk’s air piracy sparked outrage across the EU, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen calling it a “hijacking,” and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki saying it was “an unprecedented act of state terrorism.” Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary described the incident as a “state-sponsored hijacking.”

Protasevich’s current situation is unclear. He said in January 2022 that he was no longer under house arrest, uncharacteristically appearing on pro-government media. Sapega asked for a pardon in a letter in late June, calling on Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko for leniency.


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