A Ryanair airline plane flying from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, with about 120 passengers on board, was diverted on Sunday to the Belarusian capital Minsk, where Roman Protasevich, a journalist, is reportedly dissident Belarusian, was arrested.

Protasevich is a close associate of the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanóvskaya and like her, he fled Belarus and lives in Lithuania.

He is the co-founder of the Internet platform Telegram channel NEXTA, which covered the crackdown on mass protests in Belarus following the controversial re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020.

Some posts on social media claim that Protasevich had been declared a terrorist by the Belarusian authorities and could face the death penalty.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis wrote on Twitter that the plane diversion was “disturbing news”, while former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt called the act “piracy.”

“The Ryanair flight was about to enter Lithuanian airspace. If there had been a real emergency, Vilnius was clearly the closest airport,” Bildt said on Twitter.

The President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nauseda, demanded, for his part, the immediate release of Roman Protasevich.

There have been conflicting reports as to why the plane, which was flying in Belarusian airspace and minutes from the Lithuanian border, was diverted to Minsk rather than proceeding to the Lithuanian capital, which was about the same distance.

A Belarusian opposition source wrote on social media that the airliner had been boarded by a Belarusian Mig-29 fighter and essentially forced down.

Flight tracking websites that tracked the progress of the Ryanair plane showed it turning sharply just before Lithuania’s airspace and landing, towards Minsk.

Other reports said that the Ryanair flight crew had been informed of a bomb threat on the plane.

The air travel industry website onemileatatime.com said that although the Ryanair crew had dismissed the bomb threat report, they had been forced to land in Minsk.

The president answered questions from the press for the first time since the elections.

A Vilnius airport spokesman told EFE that the Minsk airport had informed them that the flight had been diverted to Belarus due to an unspecified conflict between the plane’s crew and passengers.

The Ryanair flight, according to the same source, which was scheduled to land in Vilnius at 1:00 p.m. local time, would have been authorized to leave Minsk and would arrive in the Lithuanian capital around 5:30 p.m. local time.

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