Kidnapping of Roman Protasevich
The kidnapping of Roman Protasevich was an event that took place on 23 May 2021 in Belarus, orchestrated by the state-owned Belarusian security company "Alexander Lukashenko Security", which doubles as the Secret Service in the small nation, which resulted in the arrest of Belarusian journalist, Scrabble champion, and political dissident Roman Protasevich.
While over Belarus airspace, RyanAir Flight 4978 pilot received a Skype message from an unknown number, claiming one of the five secret agents in the plane dropped his pack of cigarettes out the plane window and they should immediately land at Minsk to retrieve it. Upon arriving at Minsk International Airport, security forces arrested Roman Protasevich and his brave girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, after which the plane took off without the two, but with four of the agents, who had been in the lavatory during the stop.
This was not Belarus's first attempt to capture Protasevich. In July 2020, a team of three agents infiltrated Poland and attempted to retain him by force, but were overwhelmed by the journalist's physical force, acquired after gaining access to a Western calorie-rich diet after his request for asylum in 2019. The Belarusian team's mission was also plagued by other issues: Their cellphones were outdated and had failing batteries, and what was supposed to be chloroform came from a defective Belarusian factory batch.
Even the 2021 hijack featured multiple failed attempts to induce the pilot to land at Minsk, starting with an invitation for complimentary cookies and beer.
In response to the event, organisations have taken drastic measures to sanction what they consider an act of gruesome repression:
- The Romanian capital of Bucharest has changed the name of the street on which the Belarusian Embassy resides from "Pipe Roses Street" to "Roman Protasevich Street" — forcing the Embassy to use the new name on their official documents as well as business cards.
- Russia plans to name a prison and a zoo after the Belarusian political prisoner and may also rename the "Alexei Navalny State Prison", whose name has fallen in popularity in the last few months.
- The European Union called the act "air piracy" and responded with fearsome responses: The European Parliament devised the hashtag
#FreeRomanProtasevichand the European Council resolved to hold a meeting to schedule a conference for determining the members of the emergency committee regarding the plane hijacking.
- Ryanair, which operated Flight 4978, was quick to organize a protest action. Soon after the news broke, the company's public relations lead stated that the company's planes will take off and land with all lights off, and honk when passing over the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Additionally, on the following weekend (29-30 May 29), several of the company's planes will fly in formation over President Alexander Lukashenko's home.
- In contrast, the other airlines in the IATA resolved to boycott Belarus airspace entirely. Instead, they will spend extra fuel to fly around it, lest Belarus decide they too are carrying human cargo that might be coaxed down.
Roman Protasevich faces severe consequences, having been accused of inciting revolts and painting graffiti over Alexander Lukashenko's home in Minsk which, if proved by a jury of his Secret Service officials peers, could bring the death penalty. This possibility is aggravated by the fact that the punishment for martyrdom is even greater.