OPINION / EDITORIAL
Cause of Ryanair flight’s emergency landing must be clarified first: Global Times editorial
Published: May 24, 2021 10:04 PM
A photo taken on May 23, 2021 shows a Boeing 737-8AS Ryanair passenger plane (flight FR4978, SP-RSM) from Athens, Greece, that was intercepted and diverted to Minsk on the same day by Belarus authorities. Photo: AFP

A photo taken on May 23, 2021 shows a Boeing 737-8AS Ryanair passenger plane (flight FR4978, SP-RSM) from Athens, Greece, that was intercepted and diverted to Minsk on the same day by Belarus authorities. Photo: AFP

Authorities in Belarus on Sunday ordered a Ryanair jet to make an emergency landing in Minsk, after reports of a bomb threat on board the aircraft. The Belarusian government sent a jet fighter to protect the landing. However, there has been a shocking twist in Western public opinion, saying that a 26-year-old Belarusian opposition activist was arrested after the landing, and that the bomb threat and sending a jet fighter are all conspiracies of the Belarusian government. Some Western leaders and media quickly classified the incident as a "hijack" and "state terrorism," making it extremely sensational.

The incident is still rapidly fermenting, and the truth is not clear. There are very few voices from Belarus. European countries have issued condemnation, demanding the release of young opposition activist Roman Protasevich. There are many reports in the Western media, but the information that guides the reports does not come from authoritative organizations. Most of them are statements and accusations from the Belarusian opposition.

The point is, what is the truth? Is it true that Belarus designed a "conspiracy" and lied about a bomb threat on board to send a jet fighter and force the landing of the civilian airliner to arrest Protasevich, as the West says?

This conclusion, at least at the moment, is in the realm of public opinion, not the confirmation of international institutions. The Belarusian local authorities boarded the plane after landing to search for the bomb and re-conducted security checks. The Belarusian law enforcement investigators have opened a criminal case into the fake bomb threat. The most immediate evidence of Western media's allegation that Belarus "hijacked" the plane came before Pratasevich boarded the plane. Pratasevich told Franak Viacorka, an aide to opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, that he suspected he was being followed, according to Deutsche Welle.

It is worth noting that Pratasevich is not the most prominent opposition leader in Belarus, a country with an opposition and running multi-party elections. He is the co-founder and former editor of NEXTA Telegram channel, an opposition outlet. There is no logic to why Belarus should have embarked on such a sensational and aggressive action to arrest him, one that is destined to draw heavy pressure from the West.

So we still need to hear the explanation from Belarus. Ryanair also needs to provide further evidence on whether the request to land in Belarus was made voluntarily by the air crew, or was misled or coerced by some malicious forces.

It will be significantly different if it was a joint operation run by Belarus to arrest opposition figures, or the Belarusian government had been asked to help a civilian airliner with anti-terrorism measures, and then incidentally arrested those who they consider a criminal suspect. Whether Belarus should seize Protasevich from the plane in transit, and whether this country should release him, appears to be another question.

We believe that the international community should give Belarus the right to defend itself. Western public opinion has a very strong ability to set the agenda and often classifies an incident at the beginning of its occurrence without an authoritative investigation. But EU and US official institutions should avoid such pattern. They need more evidence to classify this incident and let the facts speak for themselves.


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