United Nations report says Belarus made ‘deliberately false’ bomb threat to seize journalist
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) at the UN established a fact-finding team in May last year after Belarus forced the Greece-to-Lithuania flight carrying a vocal opponent to land in Minsk following a bomb threat.
Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were taken off the May 23 flight in Minsk. The diversion occurred just before Ryanair Flight 4978 was due to leave Belarusian airspace.
The ICAO said it could not corroborate Minsk air traffic controllers’ claims and considered the bomb threat to be false.
But it reported that it did not have enough information to say who was behind the diversion.
Belarusian state media reported at the time that President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted.
The 62-page report said investigators were unable to interview the Belarusian air traffic controller assigned to the flight and Belarus said he did not report for work after summer leave and he could not be found.
“As neither a bomb nor evidence of its existence was found during pre-departure screening in Athens Greece and after various searches of the aircraft in Belarus and Lithuania, it is considered that the bomb threat was deliberately false,” the report said.
Minsk air traffic control told Ryanair several airports received bomb warnings via email from the Hamas extremist group.
But investigators said the Belarusian authorities provided no evidence.
Minsk said the original emails were deleted because of a data retention policy.
The United Nations investigators were unable to view surveillance video from Minsk after the plane landed, which Belarus blamed on the “length of time that had passed”.
The ICAO report said there was no evidence a phone call had taken place between Minsk Airport and Belarusian air traffic control relaying the bomb threat.
Sapega has been charged with inciting social hatred and could face up to 12 years in jail and Protasevich is under house arrest.
European leaders called the incident illegal and an “act of state terrorism”, questioning the validity of the bomb threat. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary called it a “state-sponsored hijack”.
Roman Protasevich. Picture credit: YouTube