On May 23, 2021, Belarusian authorities falsely notified a commercial airplane flying through Belarusian airspace of a bomb threat, inducing its crew to land in the capital city of Minsk. The Ireland-based Ryanair airliner, with 126 passengers and six crew on board, was on its way from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania. Upon landing, Belarusian authorities arrested and imprisoned Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega.
Almost immediately, the governing Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, suspected foul play and on May 27, 2021 began an investigation into the incident. ICAO completed its report in July of this year after receiving compelling testimony and audio evidence from the air traffic controller that was in communication with the flight. ICAO is a specialized UN agency, established in 1947 under the Chicago Convention. ICAO is charged with promoting safe, secure and sustainable international air travel.
In late October, ICAO presented its findings to the UN Security Council. “ICAO’s report established, without any doubt, that Belarusian authorities manufactured a false bomb threat to force Flight 4978 to land in Minsk for the purpose of detaining an opposition journalist, in violation of Belarus’ obligations under the Chicago Convention,” said U.S. Senior Advisor for Security Council Affairs Jeffrey DeLaurentis.
“This act of unlawful interference put civilians in danger and undermined the fundamental trust between pilots and air traffic controllers in a way that could have wide-ranging safety repercussions for international civil aviation.”
The Belarusian regime’s “forced diversion of Ryanair Flight 4978 to detain passenger and independent Belarus journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega, was a violation of international aviation law, an act of transnational repression, and a manipulation of the civil air navigation system,” said Ambassador DeLaurentis. “There must be consequences for those responsible.”
“These are not the actions of a responsible international actor. We gather here in the Security Council, and throughout the multilateral system, charged with defending peace and security in the world, and we have a responsibility to put on record our denunciation of state actors who flagrantly violate their responsibilities and put their own ulterior interests ahead of international peace and security.”
“The United States calls on the Lukashenka regime in Belarus to release Sofia Sapega, to cease the intimidation and harassment of opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich, and for the unconditional release of the more than 1,300 political prisoners currently held by the regime.”