Roman Protasevich arrest: What was the crime and what will be the punishment?

UK to sanction Nord Stream 2 over Ryanair scandal 

The British government admitted the introduction of sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline amid the forced landing of the Irish low-cost airline Ryanair in Minsk and the detention of Roman Protasevich. This opinion was voiced by British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab in the House of Commons of the British Parliament.

Raab said that Belarusian Ambassador to the UK had been summoned to the British Foreign Office. The minister threatened that London would take steps against Belarus at the level of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, ICAO), the UN Security Council and the G7. When asked about possible sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Raab said the British government would look into such an option and consult partners to find out what further steps they plan to take.

Belarus expels all Latvian Embassy employees

The Ambassador of Latvia, Einars Semanis, was asked to leave Belarus within 24 hours, Vladimir Makei, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus said according to Sputnik Near Abroad Telegram channel.

In response, Latvia announced the expulsion of the entire diplomatic corps from the country, with the exception of one technical employee of the embassy.

Makei explained that Semanis was summoned to the department in connection with an act of insult committed in relation to the state flag of Belarus in Riga.

Earlier, the mayor of Riga Martins Stakis, together with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgar Rinkevich, replaced the flag of Belarus with a white-red-white banner with Pahonia. Riga currently hosts World Ice Hockey Championship matches. 

The Riga authorities have removed the Russian tricolor flag from the square where the flags of World Ice Hockey Championship participants are displayed. The organizers referred to the decision of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and replaced the Russian flag with a banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.

Russian and Belarus flags taken down

Latvia-based airline AirBaltic has decided to temporarily suspend flights over Belarus. The company has already changed flight routes from Riga to Odessa and Tbilisi.

Spokespeople for Minsk airport told RBC that the Ryanair jetliner requested landing due to a message about a bomb; the plane landed successfully at 13:15. A sapper group and representatives of law enforcement agencies were working at the airport, passengers were sent for inspection.

The Ryanair crew appealed to the authorities of the country with a request to accept the airliner, and President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered to accept the plane. 

The bomb report on board the Ryanair airplane has not been confirmed. The Investigative Committee of Belarus opened a criminal case under Part 1 of Art. 340 of the Criminal Code due to false bomb reports.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications of Belarus set up a commission to investigate the incident with the Ryanair aircraft. The authorities allowed the plane with passengers and crew to take off from Minsk airport about five hours later.

State-run channel Belarus 1 reported that the police detained Protasevich after his photograph was sent from the airport to opposition blogger Anton Motolko, whom the Belarusian authorities put on the list of terrorists. 

“It turned out that he was flying with a girlfriend who took a photo of him on the bus [at the airport] and sent it to another blogger, Motolko <...> The latter posted the photo on Telegram, and the police reacted to the information,” the channel said.

Roman Protasevich reported in critical condition due to heart problems

Roman Protasevich's mother said that her son was found in one of Minsk hospitals, Belarus of the Brain Telegram channel reports.

The journalist's condition was reportedly estimated as critical due to heart problems, said Natalya Protasevich.

Earlier, Ryanair flight passengers said that Protasevich was "very frightened" after the plane had to land in Minsk. He wanted to get rid of some of his personal belongings, such as, reportedly, his laptop and cellular phone after he learned about the sudden decision to make an emergency landing in Minsk. 

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary, in turn, suggested that there could be KGB officers on board the plane, since the Belarusian authorities were originally going to take Protasevich off the flight. It was later reported that Roman Protasevich's girlfriend, who was flying with him, was also detained at the Minsk airport. Most likely, it goes about a woman named Sophia Sapega, a 23-year-old Russian citizen.

  • In 2015, Roman Protasevich together with Stepan Putilo founded the YouTube channel NEXTA. A few years later, Nexta switched to Telegram, and then the channel branched into NEXTA and NEXTA Live. They covered protests in Belarus that started in August 2020 after the presidential election. Nexta editors repeatedly called on their subscribers to take to the streets for unauthorised protest actions and asked to share information about police violence. 
  • In October last year, a Belarusian court declared NEXTA Live and its logo extremist. In response, the editors changed the name of the channel to HEXTA Live. Afterwards, Protasevich announced that he was leaving the project and explained that it was solely a decision of his own.
  • A criminal case was initiated against Protasevich and Putilo in Belarus into organizing mass riots; the KGB of Belarus put them both on the list of terrorists. Putilo is also wanted in Russia; Belarus demanded his extradition in November 2020 when he was in Poland.

Protasevich may face up to 15 years in prison in Belarus in accordance with Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (organization of mass riots). According to Delfi, one of the passengers said that Protasevich himself admitted after the Ryanair landed in Minsk:

“I can expect death penalty here."