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U.S. charges Belarus officials with aircraft piracy over diverted Ryanair flight -Breaking


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – A Ryanair plane carrying Belarusian blogger and activist Roman Protasevich, diverted to Belarus where authorities arrested him. He landed at Vilnius Airport, Vilnius, Lithuania, May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Andrius Sytas

Jonathan Landay and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters] – Four Belarusian officials were arrested in America for aircraft piracy last May when they diverted Ryanair’s flight to capture a dissident Belarusian journalist onboard. The arrests were made, U.S. prosecutors stated on Thursday.

U.S. Department of Justice charges have increased the international uproar surrounding the forced landing at Minsk on May 23, 2021 of Ryanair’s flight. This was followed by the detention of Roman Protasevich, a journalist, and his Russian girlfriend.

Over the incident of the hijacked flight that authorities claimed was caused by an alleged bomb threat, Belarus is already facing a series of US, Canadian, European Union and British sanctions.

Washington, DC: The Belarus Embassy in Washington didn’t immediately reply to my request for comment.

Ryanair flight 4978 had taken off from Athens, Greece and was scheduled to land in Vilnius, Lithuania, where prosecutors said Protasevich, a fierce critic of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, was living in exile.

The pilots agreed to divert to Minsk after a Belarus air traffic controller declared “code red,” indicating a credible threat requiring an immediate landing.

Protasevich’s girlfriend Sofia Sapega was also detained and taken to the terminal.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the defendants are Leonid Mikalaevich Churo and Oleg Kazyuchits. They were respectively director general and deputy general of Belarus’s state air navigation authority. Also indicted: Oleg Kazyuchits and Andrey Anatolievich Lnu, Belarusian state security officers.

They are all still at large. The indictment, alleging conspiracy for air piracy and a maximum of twenty years imprisonment, was filed against them.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that defendants had undermined international efforts to protect the skies, “to further the inappropriate purpose of suppressing dissent and freedom speech.”

Protasevich was taken into custody in Minsk and Sapega placed under house arrest. Protasevich was charged with extremism and Sapega, with inciting hatred.

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