Belarus airlines will be banned from UK airspace after journalist arrested from Ryanair flight

BELARUSIAN airlines will be banned from entering UK airspace unless specifically authorised.

Grant Shapps confirmed the move tonight after a journalist was abducted from a Ryanair flight on Sunday.

The Transport Secretary said on Twitter: "Following yesterday's removal of permission for Belavia to operate to/from the UK, I'm now taking further action.

"With immediate effect, Belarusian airlines will be prevented from entering UK airspace unless specifically authorised."

A plane carrying about 170 people from 12 countries – including reporter Roman Protasevich – was forced to land so that armed guards could arrest him.

Ryanair Flight 4978 had already begun its descent into the Lithuanian capital on May 23, 2021, when the pilot suddenly announced that the plane would be diverting to Minsk, capital of neighbouring Belarus.

Belarusian authorities had deliberately diverted the flight as it passed over the country because of a suspected bomb alert, state news agency BelTA said. That alert later turned out to be false.

The European Union called for Protasevich's immediate release, with the head of the EU's executive European Commission and the Polish Prime minister describing the incident as a hijacking.

Protasevich is being held over his involvement in protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year.

The 26-year-old worked for Poland-based online news service NEXTA, which broadcast footage of the demonstrations, sparked by huge anger over what the opposition said was a rigged presidential election – something Lukashenko denied.

The channel's shocking footage showed extreme police brutally cracking down on demonstrators after the disputed August 9, 2020, election.

NEXTA used the Telegram messenger app to broadcast at a time when it was hard for foreign media to report first-hand from the former Soviet state.

He faces extremism charges in Belarus, including organising mass riots and inciting social hatred.

Last August, freed detainees who were arrested for protesting against Lukashenko gave details of beatings during days in custody, with Amnesty International calling it "widespread torture".

Human Rights Watch reported on victims' claims of electric shocks and in one case, rape, in Lukashenko's torture chambers.

The prisoners had serious injuries including broken bones, skin wounds, cracked teeth, electrical burns and mild traumatic brain injuries.

Protasevich said on state TV on Monday he is in good health and acknowledged having played a role in organising mass disturbances last year.

"I am in Detention Centre No1 in Minsk. I can say that I have no health problems, including with my heart or any other organs," he said.

"The attitude of employees towards me is as correct as possible and according to the law.

"I continue cooperating with investigators and am confessing to having organised mass unrest in the city of Minsk."

Protasevich told fellow passengers on the diverted flight that he was "facing the death penalty".

But Protasevich's girlfriend is now facing horrific torture in a Belarus dungeon in a bid to 'break' him, her terrified family say.

Sofia Sapega's parents are begging Russian leader Vladimir Putin to intervene to save their daughter who has been locked up in a notorious detention centre in Minsk.

The worried parents fear that the 23-year-old, originally from Russia, has been caught up in Lukashenko’s vendetta against her activist boyfriend and that she can be compromised with “false allegations”.

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