Belarus, the country recognised as the only true dictatorship left in Europe is yet again in the news due to its abrupt way of detaining a journalist named Roman Protasevich. Roman Protasevich is known for his defiance towards the Belarusian Government and its dictator Alexander Lukashenko. On 23 May 2021, Ryanair flight carrying the ex-editor of Nexta, a dissident journalist Roman Protasevich was scheduled to fly from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania. But the aircraft got interjected in between and never got to reach its destination. The flight was made to divert its route and make an emergency landing in Minsk, capital of Belarus, where Roman Protasevich was detained along with his girlfriend Sofia.
Who is Roman Protasevich?
Roman Protasevich is a young journalist who has been declared a terrorist by the government of Belarus for being defiant to the Belarusian Government. Roman has been a rebellion activist from the age of 16 and he worked and fought in order to overthrow Alexander Lukashenko and his dictatorship. Roman has continuously been defiant towards Alexander’s regime and always spoke his mind about all the oppressive activities of Belarusian Government, which led to him being declared as a terrorist by the Belarusian Government. Roman also got various threats from the Belarusian Government for being arch-nemesis of the Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Due to all the threats, Roman had to leave his country and was forced to live in exile until he was kidnapped by the Belarusian Government from Minsk.
The Hijack: What actually happened?
On 23 March, 2021 Ryanair flight 4978 was flying from Athens, capital of Greece to Vilnius, city of Lithuania. Roman Protasevich and his Girlfriend Sofia Sapega were passengers of FR 4978. Suddenly, when the flight was flying near the western borders of Belarus or over the airspace of Belarus, it was interjected by Mig 29 fighter jet and was made to land in Minsk. The Belarusian Government claimed that they got an anonymous letter in which it was mentioned that Hamas has planted a bomb in the plane, and for the safety of all the on-board passengers it was necessary to make an emergency landing at Minsk. At the airport of Minsk, the luggage of the passengers was checked. And after some time, two people were detained by the Belarusian authorities. One of them was the dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and the other being his German girlfriend, Sofia who is a law student. It is now being assumed that he is facing the vengeance of dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
On 24th May 2021, the Belarusian authorities revealed the whereabouts of the journalist i.e., Roman Protasevich in Okrestina which is a prison in Minsk where hundreds of political prisoners are regularly beaten, tortured and raped.
After the detention of Roman, a short video clip was released by the Belarusian Government in which the journalist is seen to be admitting his involvement in the organisation of ‘mass unrest’ in Minsk. In the video, Roman had a look of intimidation. He looked pale and had bruises on his forehead and wrist. After watching the video, it is being feared by everyone that Roman is being tortured by the Belarusian Government and the confession of Roman in the video is recorded under duress.
Points of Doubts
As per the situation that has been reported, the reason given by the Belarusian authorities appears shallow on two grounds:
- As per the claims of Belarus, they made the pilot do the emergency landing for the sake of the passenger’s safety but when FR 4978 was interjected then, it was closer to Vilnius than Minsk. And if one thinks rationally, then in this situation, isn’t it more plausible to land the aircraft at the nearest destination? So, why the emergency landing at Minsk?
- As per the claims of Belarus, they got an anonymous letter telling them about the bomb threat. This sure raises a genuine question that why would someone inform about a bomb threat to the Belarusian authorities rather than the airport securities of Greece and Lithuania?
What International law says about the abduction?
Under the International law two major questions arise: –
- Whether the Belarusian Government had the authority to change the direction of the FR 4978 to Minsk.
- Whether the Belarusian Government had the authority to detain Roman and his girlfriend Sofia
Regarding the first issue, the apparent reason for the interjection was safety of the passengers on board and so the method used by Belarus may be legally sufficient. The Convention on International Civil Aviation, 1944, gives Belarus the authority to order a civil aircraft flying in its airspace but only if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ for doing so. Also, Belarus is required to issue the order in compliance with its published national regulations, regarding the interception of FR 4978. So, now, it is unto Belarus to prove that it has fulfilled both of the requirements.
Now, coming onto the second issue, it is mandatory to point out the fact that Under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) treaties, Poland is the country of registration of FR 4978 and thus, it is under the jurisdiction of Poland and the aircraft was still “in flight” at the time of interjection by the Mig 29 jet. No other country has the authority to detain the passengers or suspects on the civil flight for a crime which is not committed on board that aircraft. Belarus could have asked for the extradition of Roman for the alleged crimes committed by him in Belarus, by applying for it from Lithuania or Poland, but Belarus chose to act in a way which completely violates the treaty. Now, Poland has the right to sue Belarus for the violation of the ICAO treaties. Belarus has also violated the Montreal Convention for the separation of Unlawful Acts against the safety of Civil Aviation as Article 1(1) (e) of the convention says that any person commits an offence if he unlawfully and intentionally communicates information which he knows to be false, thereby endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight.
Although Poland has already issued a strong statement to condemn the act done by the Belarusian Government, by calling it “state terrorism”, it still needs to take major steps within its power to release the detainees i.e., Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega, since their detainment in itself is illegal. And, if Poland fails in securing the release of the captives, it would violate the European Convention on Human Rights, of which Poland is a part.
This act of Belarus is completely in defiance of the International law which regulates the countries of the world. This activity also laid down a bad precedent for future events i.e., if Belarus gets away after doing this act or if no legal prosecution is done against Belarus, then it will set a bad example for other countries. Other countries may start acting in the same arbitrary way as Belarus, in the hope that they will get away with it. Also, other countries and organisations should not hesitate to publicly condemn such an illegal act. The capture of Roman Protasevich by Belarus also portrays the idea that if a person defies or opposes his or her oppressive government, then he will end up as Roman Protasevich. This may develop a fear in people to point or lay down their opinions about different regimes which will curtail their right of freedom of expression. So, all in all, there is a dire need for people of different nations to voice out their rage and criticize such an unlawful act. Organizations like the European Union also need to take actions against Belarus and ensure the release of the critic, Roman Protasevich in order to maintain law and peace among the nations.
Author(s) Name: Swetangi Ranjan (Central University of south Bihar, Gaya)
 Anton Troianovski and Ivan Nechepurenko ‘Belarus Forces down Plane to Seize Dissident; Europe sees State Hijacking’ (Nytimes.com, 23 May 2021) <www.nytimes.com/2021/05/23/world/europe/ryanair-belarus.html> accessed on 23 September 2021
 Neil Vigdor and Ivan Nechepurenko ‘Who is Roman Protasevich, the captive Journalist in Belarus?’ (Nytimes.com, 23 May 2021) <www.nytimes.com/2021/05/23/world/europe/roman-protasevich.html> accessed on 23 September 2021
 International Media Support ‘Belarus: Outrage over a brazen plane hijacking and kidnapping of Roman Protasevich’ (mediasupport.org, 25 May 2021) <www.mediasupport.org/news/belarus-outrage-over-a-brazen-plane-hijacking-and-kidnapping-of-roman-protasevich/> accessed on 23 September 2021
 Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou and Arman Sarvarian, ‘Belarus kidnapping: what international law says about capture of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich’ (Theconversation.com, 26 May 2021) <www.theconversation.com/belarus-kidnapping-what-international-law-says-about-capture-of-dissident-journalist-roman-protasevich-161511> accessed on 23 September 2021
 ‘Hijacking Ryanair plane & Kidnapping of Roman Prosetavich: An International Law Analysis’ (Republicworld.com, 3 June 2021) <www.republicworld.com/opinions/blogs/hijacking-ryanair-plane-and-kidnapping-of-roman-protasevich-an-international-law-analysis.html> accessed on 23 September 2021