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Minutes To Touchdown: The Moment Belarusian Dissident Knew His Time Was Up

Roman Protasevich throughout a court docket listening to. (File Photo/Reuters)

Vilnius:

Ryanair Flight 4978 had already begun its descent into the Lithuanian capital when the pilot introduced that the airplane could be out of the blue diverting to Minsk, capital of neighbouring Belarus.

There was no rationalization.

But one of many passengers aboard the Boeing 737 reacted instantly, standing up from his seat, reaching into the overhead locker, pulling a laptop computer laptop from his hand baggage and passing it to a feminine companion alongside together with his cell phone.

Belurusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who is needed in Belarus for his function in broadcasting large opposition protests in Minsk final 12 months, didn’t have a lot time. Minsk is lower than 200 km (125 miles) from Vilnius. The diversion would take minutes.

“When it was announced they were going to land in Minsk, Roman stood up, opened the luggage compartment, took luggage and was trying to split things,” mentioned the Lithuanian passenger, who gave his identify solely as Mantas.

“I think he made a mistake. There were plenty of people so he could give the things to me or other passengers and not the girlfriend, who was also I think arrested.”

Outside the airplane – though not seen to Mantas – was a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet, on orders from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to pressure the airplane to Minsk.

Mantas was talking to Reuters after a day-long ordeal that started in Athens and at last ended late within the night within the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, after a stopover of greater than seven hours in Minsk.

Another exhausted passenger, talking to reporters with out giving her identify, mentioned Protasevich seemed “super scared”.

“I looked directly into his eyes and he was very sad,” she mentioned.

Belarusian authorities had diverted the flight because it handed over the nation due to a suspected bomb alert, state information company BelTA mentioned. The alert later turned out to be false.

‘STANDING ALONE’

Protasevich, 26 was instantly separated on arrival in Minsk and checks of bags utilizing sniffer canine turned up nothing.

“We saw that Roman was stopped due to some things in the luggage,” Mantas mentioned, including that the opposite passengers additionally had their baggage checked and had been taken by bus to the terminal the place they spent a number of hours ready to reboard the airplane.

“We saw from the window that Roman is standing alone, and one policeman with dog was trying to find something (in his luggage).”

Another passenger, who additionally didn’t give his identify, instructed Lithuanian media that Protasevich had recognized himself to Belarusian safety officers on arrival. “I saw how his passport was taken away. He took off his mask and said: ‘I’m so-and-so and I’m the reason why all this is going on.'”

The European Union referred to as for Protasevich’s rapid launch, with the top of the EU’s government European Commission and the Polish prime minister describing the incident as a hijacking.

The different passengers seemed weary on arrival in Vilnius, with Mantas saying they’d spent hours in queues for baggage and passport checks in Minsk earlier than being allowed right into a lounge to await takeoff.

He mentioned he couldn’t make certain if Protasevich’s companion, who took the laptop computer and cellphone, had additionally been detained in Minsk, however there seemed to be extra empty seats on the ultimate Minsk-Vilnius journey than when it took off from Athens.

“It means that more than one person was (taken) out of the plane – but (it’s) difficult to say exactly.”

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda instructed a information convention late on Sunday that Protasevich’s feminine companion had additionally not re-embarked the flight from Minsk to Vilnius.


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