Ireland accuses Belarus of ‘hijacking’ Ryanair plane to detain opposition journalist

Ireland condemns Lukashenko regime at UN Security Council after investigation finds aircraft was forced to land after false bomb threat

Ireland has accused the government of Belarus of orchestrating the hijacking of a civilian Ryanair plane last year as part of an operation to arrest an opposition journalist.

At the United Nations Security Council on Monday, Ireland maintained that a thorough investigation of the events in May 2021 by the International Civil Aviation Organization had found “incontrovertible evidence of state-led breaches of international aviation law”.

Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations, Fergal Mythen, said the bomb threat made against the Ryanair jet, which was flying over Belarus on its way from Athens to Vilnius, had been “deliberately false”.

“Senior government officials in Belarus knowingly participated, and gave instructions to force it to land in Minsk.”

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Mr Mythen said the Lukashenko regime in Belarus had orchestrated the hijacking of this civilian aircraft to arrest an opposition journalist and his companion.

“This is a clear indication of the lengths [the president of Belarus Alexander] Lukashenko will go to repress all dissent against his brutal regime.

“Ireland condemns the detentions of journalist Roman Protasevich, and his companion, Sofia Sapega.”

He said the journalist’s alleged crime was “honest media reporting of Lukashenko’s regime of repression and intimidation”.

“This serious incident was the latest in a pattern of repressive actions by the Lukashenko regime against the Belarusian people and civil society following the fraudulent presidential election of August 2020. With no democratic legitimacy, Lukashenko relies on repression and threats to maintain his rule at the cost of his country’s prosperity and the human rights of his people.

“Ireland condemns the use of state violence against peaceful protesters, indiscriminate detentions, and curtailments on the freedom of assembly and media freedoms in Belarus, and calls for their immediate cessation.”

Ireland also condemned the involvement of Belarus in the “illegal, unjustified war” by Russia against Ukraine.

Separately at the UN Security Council on Monday, Ireland said it deeply regretted the decision by Russia to suspend its involvement in the initiative to facilitate grain exports from Ukraine.

The Kremlin at the weekend said it was pulling out of the UN-brokered deal that allowed civilian ships to export grain and fertiliser from Black Sea ports. This followed a drone attack by Ukraine on the Crimean port of Sevastopol in which some Russian vessels were reportedly damaged.

“In turning its back on this deal, Russia could exacerbate the situation for millions of people across the world already at risk of starvation,” Mr Mythen said.

“That Russia would suspend its participation as winter sets in is particularly cynical, with many millions facing the all too real possibility of being plunged into acute food insecurity as a result. As always, it is the most vulnerable who will pay the highest price.

“We urge Russia to reconsider this decision and to immediately resume its participation in this life-saving initiative, to enable food to reach those who need it most.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent