Passenger of diverted Vilnius-bound flight: blogger's arrest was clearly staged

  • 2021-05-24
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – The arrest of Belarusian opposition activist and blogger Raman Pratasevich was clearly staged, says Mantas, one of the passengers on the same plane that was diverted to Minsk.

Having returned to Vilnius on Sunday night, the Vilnius resident said that after the plane was diverted close to the Lithuanian border, its passengers were only informed that the plane needed to land in Minsk, and several fire engines and around 50 officers with dogs were waiting at the airport.

"We witnessed the detention, he (Pratasevich) was standing next to us. (The officers) imitated that the dogs found something in the bag. Everyone was checked, everyone came out, put their luggage and the dogs would approach and check everyone's luggage, and, of course, they "found" something in one man's bag. It's unclear what that was, maybe some smelly socks. They then took him behind a bus, he drove away on the bus together with an OMON office or a police officer," Mantas told journalists after landing at Vilnius Airport.

"When we landed, three fire engines approached, 50 people, OMON officers and some services. In principle, it was all clear that it was staged," Mantas said.

He said Pratasevich tried to hand over his computer, phone, but did a mistake by giving his belongings to a female friend who was flying with him.

"In fact, we saw that when the plane landed, he quickly handed over his belongings to the friend who was there, but probably did a mistake as he should have given them to someone from the passengers inside, me or other passengers, but he gave them to his friend who was probably also arrested as we no longer saw her afterwards," the man said.

In his words, before the plane was diverted, its passengers were also told that the planed need to land in Minsk.

"The information was very simple as they said that we needed to land in Minsk. Based on the move, when the plane did the move, everyone understood that either something on the plane malfunctioned, but the pilot did no inform us, or something broke mechanically, and they said that we needed to land in Minsk due to technical reasons and that's all," the Vilnius resident said.

He said the fighter jet was not seen anywhere: "We didn’t see the fighter jet as it was probably higher but judging from the pilot's movement and the way of speaking, he was nervous".

Another man who was on the plane said he was very tired. "We are very tired. We spent eight hours there and we received no information on what happened, except for what we could find on the internet. We were sitting there and did not receive any information," the man said in English and later speaking in Russian.

"The incident was calm, we only saw that something was happening but everything took place very calmly, with no violence, he (Pratasevich) did no resist," the man said.

Asked how the passengers were treated at Minsk Airport, he said briefly: "In a Soviet manner".

Ryanair's Athens-to-Vilnius flight was diverted to Minsk and held for several hours there 

on Sunday afternoon. The plane was close to the Lithuanian airspace but was forced to divert to the Belarusian capital.

Ryanair said the flight made an emergency landing in Minsk after being notified by Belarus' air traffic controllers of "a potential security threat on board". This information eventually turned out to be not true.

Pratasevich, a Belarusian opposition activist, blogger and founder of the Nexta information channel, was on the plane and was detained after landing in Minsk.

Based on the information available to Lithuania, there were 171 passengers on the plane and they included 94 Lithuanian citizens, as well as 11 Greek nationals, nine French citizens, and also several citizens of Belarus, Poland, Romania, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Georgia etc.

The plane retuned to Vilnius on Sunday night.

The incident has been condemned by NATO, the European Commission and leaders of some EU member states.