EU bans Belarus airlines from flying over bloc and using its airports over journalist's arrest

4 June 2021, 16:42

Belarus has sparked outcry after detaining a dissident a journalist
Belarus has sparked outcry after detaining a dissident a journalist. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

The European Union has banned Belarusian airlines from its airspace and from using the bloc's airports.

The move follows Minsk's decision to divert a Ryanair plane so authorities could arrest a dissident journalist.

It is part of escalating tensions between the authoritarian state and Europe.

The EU said member states have to "deny permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories" to any aircraft operated by Belarusian air carriers.

Flight controllers told an overflying Ryanair plane of an alleged bomb threat, instructing the pilots to land in Minsk on May 23.

Roman Protasevich, a 26-year-old dissident journalist, was hauled off the plane by officials.

He was detained en route from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania and his arrest sparked international outcry.

Read more: Who is Roman Protasevich, activist arrested in Belarus?

He has since appeared on state television, when he insisted he respects authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

The video has been decried as propaganda, with Mr Protasevich's parents saying he would have been coerced into the statement.

Mr Protasevich said in the video he "certainly" respects the president.

President Lukashenko's re-election for a sixth term as leader - having been in power since 1994 - triggered protests, many attracting more than 100,000 people. Opponents are angry at his rule amid observations that the vote was illegitimate.

Around 35,000 people were detained by police, with many beaten, during the state's crackdown on dissidents.

Mr Protasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, was a founder of a messaging app channel which was key to circulating information to President Lukashenko's opponents.