There was tension and drama in the skies Sunday and the result of what happened has leaders in Europe and the U.S. scrambling to figure out how to respond.
Authorities from Belarus scrambled a jet fighter to force a commercial Rynair plane to land so they could detain an opposition-minded journalist who was on board.
American and European authorities have condemned the action, which some leaders have described as a hijacking.
The plane was in route from Athens to Lithuania when it was suddenly diverted to Minsk, which is the capital of Belarus. A fake bomb alert was part of the ruse that got the plane to change its course.
The plane was escorted to the ground by a Mig-29 fighter jet. Once the plane landed, authorities arrested the journalist Roman Protasevich.
According to witnesses on the plane and reported by Delfi News from Lithuania, Prostavich was shaking once he realized the flight had turned around, and as he was taken away by authorities allegedly said “I’ll get the death penalty here.”
The journalist had previously worked for NEXTA, a Poland based online news service which broadcast footage of was protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year on Telegram.
Now Prostasevich works for a different news outlet called Belamova. He is wanted in Belarus on shares of extremism, and authorities have accused him of organizing mass riots and of inciting social hatred.
The plane was diverted just two minutes before it was set to cross into Lithuanian airspace.
The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez issued a joint statement in concert with the heads of seven European parliamentary foreign affairs panels blasting the forced landing and calling it “an act of piracy.”
According to human rights groups, roughly 35,000 people have been detained in Belarus since August, with dozens now serving time in jail.