The UN’s aviation agency has for the first time accused senior Belarus officials of being behind the forced grounding of a flight between Greece and Lithuania that led to the arrest of a dissident journalist.
Belarus air traffic controllers ordered the Ryanair flight to land in Minsk as it was travelling between Athens and Vilnius in May 2021, citing a bomb threat. Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich was detained along with his then-girlfriend once the plane was on the ground.
After previously saying it did not know who was behind the fake threat, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Tuesday condemned Minsk for “committing an act of unlawful interference” that contravened aviation rules.
“The ICAO Council acknowledged that the bomb threat against (the flight) … was deliberately false and endangered its safety, and furthermore that the threat was communicated to the flight crew upon the instructions of senior government officials of Belarus,” the agency said in a statement, citing new information.
The agency, which has its headquarters in Montreal, Canada, added that Russia’s representative strongly objected to the conclusion. Western nations, including Canada, have imposed sanctions on Belarus for supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Belarus foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ICAO statement.
Minsk has previously insisted it acted legally and in accordance with all international norms, accusing Western countries of using the episode to try to undermine President Alexander Lukashenko.
Shortly after he was detained, Protasevich, the former editor of an opposition news outlet, renounced his political activism and was released from jail into house arrest. Belarus opposition figures believe his recantation was coerced.