IATA Reacts to Ryanair Diversion To Arrest Journalist

Reactions to the forced emergency landing of Ryanair Flight FR4978 at Minsk Airport on Sunday have been pouring in throughout the day. IATA’s Willie Walsh has released a statement calling for an independent international investigation into the event. IATA also condemns any inconsistencies with rules of international law, while stopping short of accusing the Belarusian regime of state-sanctioned hijacking.

IATA Reacts to Ryanair Diversion To Arrest Journalist
IATA says it condemns any interference inconsistent with international law. Photo: Getty Images

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Details are unclear, IATA says

The outpouring of displeasure at a Belarusian fighter jet forcing a Ryanair flight to an emergency landing at Minsk Airport on Sunday continues. On Monday, the Director-General of the International Aviation Association (IATA), Willie Walsh, released a statement on the incident, strongly condemning any potentially unlawful actions and calling for an independent investigation into the event.

“IATA strongly condemns any interference or requirement for the landing of civil aviation operations that is inconsistent with the rules of international law. The details of the event with flight FR 4978 are not clear. A full investigation by competent international authorities is needed,” a statement by Mr Walsh on IATA’s website reads.

At the time of writing, several airlines have chosen to reroute their flights to stay clear of Belarusian airspace. AirBaltic and Wizz Air declared early on Monday that they would be taking detours, and countries such as Sweden and the UK are telling their airlines to do the same. Latvian authorities have advised its citizens currently in Belarus to leave the country.

IATA Reacts to Ryanair Diversion To Arrest Journalist
Other airlines such as Wizz are currently choosing not to enter Belarusian airspace. Photo: Getty Images.

Threat to what?

On Sunday, Ryanair Flight FR4978 was on its way from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, and crossing through Belarusian airspace when local Air Traffic Control notified the crew of a potential security threat onboard. A MiG-29 fighter jet proceeded to escort the Boeing 737 to the airport.

Threat to the security of whom or what was not specified. Belarusian oppositional forces in exile, and increasingly Western leaders, would argue that the threat in question was one perceived by the Belarusian authoritarian government.

Upon landing, security forces escorted passenger Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old Belarusian oppositional activist and journalist, off the plane. State media in Belarus reported that President Lukashenko had personally given the order to intercept the aircraft.

Ryanair, Irish Government, Travel Restrictions
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary says that two KGB agents were on the flight. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

KGB officers onboard, O’Leary says

While IATA is reservedly diplomatic in its statement, stopping short of accusing the Belarusian authorities of fabricating the security alert, others are not mincing words when condemning yesterday’s forced landing and arrest.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary called it ‘a case of state-sponsored hijacking’ and said agents of the Belarusian KGB had been traveling onboard the flight before deboarding in Minsk.

The European Union summoned the Belarusian ambassador on Monday, informing him of the bloc’s ‘firm condemnation. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said the regime’s behavior was ‘outrageous and illegal’.

The US State Department also said it ‘strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states’ and demanded the immediate release of Protasevich.  Other passengers onboard the plane told the BBC that the young reporter was panic-stricken and fearing for his life. Belarus is the only European country that still retains the death penalty.