Belarus: Release arrested journalist after forced emergency landing at Minsk Airport

Journalist, Roman Protasevich is wanted by the government for broadcasting the government’s violent response to last year’s protests against Alexander Lukashenko

As members of the European Council meet today to discuss pressing issues affecting the continent and its partners, global civil society alliance CIVICUS, calls on leaders of the European Union to prioritise discussions around the forceful abduction of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and impose additional sanctions on Belarus. Roman Protasevich was abducted after his Ryanair flight was forcefully diverted yesterday by an MiG-29 fighter en route to Vilnius, Lithuania from Athens. According to press reports, the pilot of the plane received a message from Belarusian authorities claiming there was a bomb on the plane. The plane was then accompanied by the MiG-29 fighter and several helicopters until it landed at Minsk airport.

The use of military tactics and a false security threat to divert Roman Protasevich’s flight is a new low even by Belarusian standards. This was a military operation supporting ongoing persecution of a journalist, not a security threat as Alexander Lukashenko’s government claims. Roman Protasevich’s safety is not guaranteed as long as he is in the custody of the Belarusian authorities. The European Union should prioritise his protection by urgently calling for his release. Said David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS

Roman Protasevich is a journalist, blogger and the former editor- in - chief of the opposition media outlet and Telegram Channel NEXTA. NEXTA broadcast the violent response of peaceful protests in Belarus following controversial elections in 2020. The channel was one of the few sources of information at a time when the Belarusan authorities imposed restrictions on independent media outlets. In 2020, NEXTA was labelled “extremist” and subsequently banned in Belarus and Roman Protasevich added to a list of individuals accused of terrorist activities. He was later charged with “incitement of mass riots,” “gross violation of public order,” and “incitement of hatred.”


The forceful abduction Roman Protasevich takes place in a context of the violent response by Belarusian authorities to peaceful protests that started following disputed elections in Belarus on 9 August 2020. Journalists, members of the political opposition and human rights defenders have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, detentions, intimidation and violence. More than 34 000 people have been arrested so far. Belarus remains the most dangerous place in Europe for journalists. The targeting of those critical of the elections and the human rights violations that followed have forced many Belarusians to flee the country. Even those seeking refuge in other countries are at risk of being abducted and taken back to Belarus.

Civic space in Belarus is rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor