Belarus drew swift condemnation from international leaders after the country reportedly used a fighter jet and a false bomb alert to force the landing of a Ryanair passenger plane over Minsk and seize opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich, on Sunday.
But in the hours after the abduction, Ryanair’s press office amazingly reported that “nothing untoward” occurred during the flight’s simple “diversion.”
In a statement issued on Sunday, Ryanair stated, “The aircraft landed safely and passengers were offloaded while security checks were completed by local authorities. Nothing untoward was found and authorities cleared the aircraft to depart together with passengers and crew after approx. 7hrs on the ground in Minsk.”
Responding to the statement, Washington Post reporter Liz Sly charged, “Ryanair has quite literally airbrushed Roman Protasevich from the record,” noting the airline neglected to mention in its summary of facts that “one passenger was kidnapped [and] taken away.”
Roughly a day later, the company issued an updated statement in which it condemned the “unlawful actions of the Barusian authorities” as “an act of aviation piracy.” Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary followed by calling the incident “state-sponsored hijacking” on Irish Newstalk radio.
But the amendment came much too late as far as many critics were concerned, many of which were upset at the airline for turning over Protasevich to authorities of the despotic regime led by Alexander Lukashenko in the first place.
After all, Ryanair’s initial response put them in line with the likes of Russia, whose foreign minister, Sergei Lavro, on Monday defended Belarus’s actions as an “absolutely reasonable approach.”
The United States and the rest of Europe on Monday condemned the shocking action as an act of “piracy,” “hijacking,” and “state terrorism,” NBC News reported, adding that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had demanded an international investigation to be conducted.
Reuters reported that the incident and subsequent punitive actions against Belarus were expected to dominate a planned European Union summit on Monday.
The news agency also reported that 26-year-old Protasevich — who has worked for Poland-based news service NEXTA and is wanted in Belarus for broadcasting protests against Lukashenko last year — “held his head in his hands and looked sad and scared on landing.”
According to reports, Protasevich was seen being escorted by authorities into custody shortly after the plane landed on Minsk. At this point it is unclear what crimes he is charged with, but BBC News noted that in Belarus, causing mass unrest can be punished by up to 15 years in jail.