Roman Protasevich / REUTERS

NATO has called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally free Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who is a citizen of Russia.

"The North Atlantic Council strongly condemns the forced diversion to Minsk, Belarus of a Ryanair flight between Athens and Vilnius on 23 May, as well as the removal from the diverted aircraft and arrest of Raman Pratasevich [Roman Protasevich], a prominent Belarusian journalist travelling on board, and Sofia Sapega," NATO said in a statement on Belarus on May 26, 2021.

According to NATO, this unacceptable act seriously violated the norms governing civil aviation and endangered the lives of the passengers and crew.

"We support calls for an urgent independent investigation, including by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). We support measures taken by Allies individually and collectively in response to this incident," the statement said.

According to the statement, the detention of Protasevich is an affront to the principles of political dissent and freedom of the press.

"Belarus must immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Pratasevich [Protasevich] and Ms. Sapega. NATO Allies call on Belarus to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms, and to abide by the rules-based international order," the statement said.

Allies stand in solidarity with Latvia following the unjustified expulsion of Latvian diplomats.

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Forced landing of Ryanair plane

  • On May 23, 2021, Belarus scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet to forcedly land a Ryanair plane in Minsk. The plane was heading from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania. Co-founder of Telegram's opposition channel NEXTA, Roman Protasevich, was on board the plane.
  • The plane was diverted to Minsk at the command of Belarusian air traffic controllers over a possible bomb threat, despite the fact that the distance to Vilnius was much shorter. After the plane landed, Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were detained. Protasevich faces the death penalty in Belarus.
  • The circumstances of the forced landing of the Ryanair airline in Minsk will be investigated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
  • At 00:00 Kyiv time on May 26, 2021, Ukraine halted air traffic with Belarus over the incident. What is more, Ukrainian airlines and aircraft will not be allowed to fly in Belarusian airspace.