Dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, was flying back to Lithuania from a holiday in Greece on Sunday when the plane was ordered to make an emergency landing in Minsk.
Protasevich, who is the founder of a social media channel which has organised massive protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, was hauled off the plane, stopped on the pretext of a bomb threat. His girlfriend Sofia was also detained.
It is understood that Lukashenko -- 'Europe's last dictator' -- personally gave the order for the 170 passengers to be brought down hundreds of miles from their destination, so that the journalist could be apprehended. He also ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet be scrambled to escort the plane. Aviation experts have claimed that Belarus threatened to shoot down the Ryanair flight unless it did not land immediately.
Protasevich fled the country in 2019 fearing arrest as Belarus rounded up hundreds of opposition personalities, but has continued to annoy the regime with his activism. He was aware of the danger that awaited as the plane started to descend, begging the cabin crew not to follow the order, saying 'they will kill me' and telling another passenger on the ground that he faced 'the death penalty.'
Ryanair jet boss O'Leary described the act as 'state-sponsored hijacking,' adding that 'we believe there were some KGB agents offloaded at the airport as well.' Suspicions have fallen on four Russian passengers who voluntarily departed in Minsk, not continuing with the flight when it travelled on to its final destination, the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
The whereabouts of Protasevich remained unknown on Monday. Governments across Europe reacted with outrage, suggesting authoritarian Belarus used the pretext of a bomb threat to conduct a "state hijacking" of a civilian airliner to go after a critic.
Belarus is a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe bordering Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. (Culled from Daily Mail).