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Swiss Firm Doesn't See 'Credible Evidence' Backing Belarusian Claim On Plane Diversion


Western leaders are demanding the release of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, who were detained when the plane landed in Minsk.
Western leaders are demanding the release of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, who were detained when the plane landed in Minsk.

E-mail provider Proton Technologies AG says it has not seen "credible evidence" to back up the claim by Belarus that it received an e-mailed bomb threat before diverting a passenger plane to Minsk.

Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has claimed that Belarusian authorities on May 23 received a warning in an e-mail from Switzerland about a bomb on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius.

The plane was then escorted by a Belarusian fighter jet to Minsk, even though the Vilnius airport was closer.

When the plane landed, a journalist critical of Lukashenka and his girlfriend were immediately detained by police. No bomb was found on the plane, which hours later traveled onward to its original destination.

"We haven't seen credible evidence that the Belarusian claims are true," ProtonMail, a division of Swiss-based Proton Technologies, said in a May 27 statement, adding that the e-mail was sent after the aircraft had been forced to change course.

ProtonMail said it will assist European authorities in any investigation of the incident, which has sparked global outrage.

Belarusian officials have said the e-mail was sent in English via an encrypted e-mail service, purportedly by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Hamas has angrily denied the assertion.

ProtonMail told RFE/RL in an email after the May 27 statement that the copy of an email leaked to the press was not obtained from the company, and due to the encryption utilized by ProtonMail, "we cannot access or verify the contents of the message."

"However, we are able to see when the message was sent, and we can confirm that the message in question was sent after the plane was redirected," it said.

"Due to the usage of ProtonMail by Belarusian citizens to protect their privacy, attempts have been made by the Lukashenka government to block access to ProtonMail since summer 2020. We condemn these actions, and also the recent actions involving Ryanair flight 4978."

Meanwhile, Lina Beisiene, a spokeswoman for the Lithuanian airports, told the Baltic News Service on May 23 that Lithuanian officials had been notified that the plane's diversion was prompted by a conflict between passengers and the flight crew.

However, she said, Lithuania received no information about a bomb threat or other details from Belarus.

After a wave of pro-democracy protests and Western sanctions following a disputed presidential election in August 2020, the diversion of the Ryanair plane has renewed pressure on Lukashenka, with Western leaders demanding the release of journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

The EU had already begun to cut air links with the increasingly isolated Eastern European country and the bloc's foreign ministers are meeting in Lisbon on May 27 to discuss further sanctions on the country.

The Montreal, Canada-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also will hold an urgent meeting on May 27 to discuss Belarus's move to forcibly divert the Ryanair plane.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS
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