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2021.05.23 20:51

Inside Vilnius-bound flight diverted to Minsk: ‘the journalist stood up, got very nervous’

LRT.lt2021.05.23 20:51

LRT.lt spoke to a passenger onboard Sunday’s Vilnius-bound flight that was diverted to Minsk in order to arrest Roman Pratasevich, editor of the Telegram channel Nexta that was instrumental in guiding protests against Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.

The woman was on her return trip after a holiday in Greece when the passengers were suddenly informed that the plane would be landing in Minsk.

“Everyone got a bit confused, began thinking of any possible issues with the plane,” the woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, told LRT.lt on Sunday. “But then, the journalist [Pratasevich] stood up, got very nervous.”

According to her, she didn't see any conflicts arise between passengers onboard the plane, contrary to the initial claims by the authorities.

After landing in Minsk, the passengers sat in the plane for about an hour without being informed of what was going on.

Read more: Belarus scrambles air force, diverts Vilnius-bound flight to Minsk to arrest dissident

“The plane landed, then a lot of fire trucks came and, as far as we could see from the plane, there were also officers with dogs,” she said. “Then, we were allowed to take our things and to go outside in groups of five. There, all of our things were checked by [officers with] dogs, we had to unpack everything.”

She said she saw Pratasevich being checked by the Belarusian authorities. According to her, Pratasevich was checked the longest and was brought further from other passengers. He was then allowed to board a bus together with the other passengers on their way to the terminal. Once there, he was led away by Belarusian officers.

All remaining passengers were taken to a waiting hall before boarding the plane.

Another passenger, Marius Rutkauskas, told LRT TV that he sat one row behind Pratasevich. They were initially told that the plane would be landing in Minsk due to a technical fault.

"One row behind, a man sat with his girlfriend and you could see that he started to panic. As I understood, this was the journalist. He panicked because we would be landing in Minsk. He said that the death penalty awaits him in Belarus," Rutkauskas said.

On Sunday, a plane bound to Vilnius from Greece was forced to land in Minsk. A Belarusian opposition leader says the Minsk government grounded the flight in order to arrest the opposition journalist.

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