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UN Aviation Agency Finishes Report On Flight Diverted To Belarus

A Ryanair aircraft, which was carrying Belarusian opposition blogger and activist Raman Pratasevich when it was diverted to Belarus, where authorities detained him, lands at Vilnius airport in Lithuania on May 23, 2021.

The UN's civil aviation agency has completed a report about the investigation into Belarus's diversion of a Ryanair flight last year to arrest a dissident journalist.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) said on January 17 that the fact-finding report was made accessible to all 193 members, including the 36 states currently serving on the organization's council.

Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were detained in May 2021 when Belarus scrambled a military jet to escort their Athens-to-Vilnius Ryanair flight to land in Minsk.

Belarusian authorities had claimed they acted because of a bomb threat that proved to be false.

Many countries condemned the action ordered by Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a "state hijacking" of a passenger aircraft.

Britain and the European Union responded by telling airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and banning the country's flagship carrier, Belavia. Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, and the European Union, announced fresh sanctions against Belarus in response to the incident.

"Council representatives will formally consider any further actions to be taken by ICAO as a result of the report's findings during a meeting presently scheduled for 31 January," the Montreal-based organization said in a statement.

"On that day the council will also review a request from Belarus regarding what the state considers to have been unlawful restrictions or sanctions which were placed upon it in the aftermath of the event, by other states and the EU," it added.

The report, which was repeatedly delayed, was written by experts in the fields of aviation security, aircraft operations, air navigation, and international air law.

Pratasevich faces charges of playing a role in civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Pratasevich was a key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live, which covered the mass protests against the official results of the election, which handed Lukashenka a sixth presidential term despite widespread criticism that the vote was rigged.

Sapega faces several charges related to sharing information about the protests. If convicted, she could face up to six years in prison.

Pratasevich and Sapega are currently under house arrest.

Lukashenka's regime is already internationally isolated over its brutal crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement. The European Union, United States, and other countries have slapped several rounds of coordinated sanctions on Belarus.

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