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Live Reporting

Edited by Patrick Jackson

All times stated are UK

  1. We're ending our live coverage

    The day after Belarus forced a flight to land in Minsk - where authorities detained an opposition journalist and his partner - the EU has agreed to impose more sanctions against the country amid growing international condemnation of the move.

    You can read the full story of what happened to flight FR4978 and all the reaction here.

  2. Who we are

    Thanks for following our coverage. This live page was edited by Alix Kroeger and Patrick Jackson. The writers were Victoria Bisset, Joshua Cheetham, Toby Luckhurst, Ashitha Nagesh, Joshua Nevett and Gareth Evans.

  3. What to expect on Tuesday

    The EU agreed to more sanctions against Belarus on Monday, but there will be more reaction to Ryanair flight FR4978 in the days to come.

    Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko is set to deliver a statement on Tuesday on the plane diversion and the arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.

    There will also be a meeting of Nato ambassadors to discuss the incident. Belarus is bordered by several Nato members, including Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

  4. Protasevich's girlfriend Sofia Sapega also detained

    Sofia Sapega

    We reported earlier that Sofia Sapega, Roman Protasevich's girlfriend, has also been detained.

    The 23-year-old student was also travelling on the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius when it was diverted to Minsk.

    Sapega's mother, Anna Dudich, told BBC Russian today that her daughter was in Okrestina Detention Centre, a jail in the Belarusian capital. It is still unclear what the allegations are against her.

    Her university, the European Humanities University in Vilnius, has called for her immediate release.

    "We stay in solidarity with all illegally detained Belarusians and those under unprecedented political persecution," it said. "We protest against the unjustified detention of the member of EHU community Sofia Sapega."

  5. Russians accuse West of hypocrisy, citing Snowden flight

    Bolivian presidential jet in Vienna, 2013
    Image caption: The Bolivian president's jet was forced to divert to Vienna in 2013

    Western nations have furiously criticised the Belarusian government for diverting the Ryanair flight, and are already proposing measures to punish the state.

    But a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman has accused Western leaders of hypocrisy. In a statement, Maria Zakharova said that nations "had reacted differently to similar events which took place in other countries earlier", citing particularly an incident in 2013.

    Then-Bolivian President Evo Morales' plane "en route from Moscow was forced to land in Vienna following a demand by the US security services which were trying to hunt down former CIA agent E. Snowden", she alleged.

    That year US whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked National Security Agency classified information about global surveillance programmes. He fled the country and sought asylum in various countries worldwide, eventually settling in Russia, where he remains today.

    The BBC covered the incident back in 2013, when the Bolivian jet was reportedly refused entry to French, Spanish and Italian air space and forced to land in Austria. It was allegedly because of US suspicions Snowden was on board - Bolivian officials accused European countries of blocking the presidential jet on behalf of the US, after Morales suggested he could give asylum to Snowden.

  6. KLM to halt flights over Belarus

    KLM airplanes are seen parked at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Image caption: Several airlines have halted flights over Belarus

    KLM, the flag carrier of the Netherlands, is the latest airline to temporarily suspend flights over Belarus in response to Sunday's plane diversion.

    The move was reported by Dutch news agency ANP shortly after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte urged to airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

    Other airlines such as Latvia's AirBaltic and Germany's Lufthansa have heeded Rutte's appeal.

    The international community is still considering what action to take against Belarus for its interception of the Ryanair flight.

    Earlier, the UN said an urgent council meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will be convened on Thursday.

    On Sunday the ICAO, which supports governments in their diplomacy and co-operation in air transport, said the incident may have contravened a core aviation treaty.

    However, aviation experts say the ICAO has no power to close or restrict a country's airspace, as it is not a regulator.

    Instead, EU leaders are expected to call on ICAO to urgently investigate the incident in Belarus.

  7. What sanctions has the EU already imposed on Belarus?

    We know that the European Council has called for further EU sanctions against Belarus and its government but Belarus has already been under sanctions since 2004.

    The European Council previously imposed "an arms embargo; a ban on the export of goods for internal repression; an asset freeze; and a travel ban against four people listed in connection with the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, one businessman and one journalist in 1999 and in 2000," the Council says.

    The most recent measures were imposed after the 2020 presidential election, which saw President Lukashenko re-elected amid widespread allegations of fraud. A brutal state crackdown followed, with mass demonstrations on the streets and thousands of arrests.

    Lukashenko, his son, and 86 other individuals are "identified as responsible for repression and intimidation", the European Council says, and are subject to a travel ban and an asset freeze.

  8. Activists criticise Protasevich video

    More now on the video that has emerged showing Protasevich in detention.

    It has prompted criticism from leading activists, who have suggested it may have been recorded under duress.

    "This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure," the main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, wrote on Twitter using the Belarusian spelling of his name.

    "I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners," she added.

    In the clip, Protasevich says he is in a pre-trial detention facility in Minsk and denies having heart problems that were reported earlier today.

    He also appears to have a small black spot on his forehead.

  9. BreakingEU demands release of journalist and partner

    The European Council, which represents the governments of the EU's member states, has demanded the release of detained opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega, in Belarus.

    A spokesman released a number of conclusions from the meeting including calls:

    • For the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) "to urgently investigate this unprecedented and unacceptable incident"
    • For all EU carriers "to avoid overflight of Belarus"
    • For further EU sanctions against Belarus and its government
    • For a ban on "overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines" and the prevention of "access to EU airports of flights operated by such airlines"
    View more on twitter
  10. 'You don't start a discussion with a fighter jet'

    MiG-29 jets
    Image caption: Belarusian MiG-29 jets at a fly-past (file image)

    Reuters news agency has been speaking to aviation experts and pilots about the protocol of flight interceptions.

    Earlier, the head of Belarus's aviation authority said air traffic controllers had not pressured the Ryanair crew to land in Minsk.

    But one former pilot for US Airways, John Cox, told Reuters the captain of the Ryanair flight had had little choice but to comply.

    "If the interceptor directed the Ryanair flight to Minsk, then they had to land there," Cox said. "Pilots are trained for this, and there are internationally agreed signals between the interceptor and the airliner."

    One pilot at a European airline said they wouldn't question an interception, while another said "you don't start a discussion with a MiG-29", referring to the military fighter jet that pursued the Ryanair plane.

  11. Ukraine prepares to ban Belarus flights

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
    Image caption: Further details of President Volodymyr Zelensky's reported decision have yet to be confirmed

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has instructed his government to "work out a decision" on suspending air links to and from neighbouring Belarus.

    Zelensky gave the order at a meeting with senior members of his government, according to a government release.

    An extraordinary meeting of senior Ukrainian leaders will be held tomorrow to discuss the order, AFP news agency reports.

    The two former Soviet Union countries share a 891km (554-mile) border in eastern Europe. Relations have cooled in recent years.

    Shortly after Alexander Lukashenko's contentious re-election in August 2020, Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Belarus, saying that it had to assess the prospect of their relations "in the new reality."

    Ukraine has also criticised Belarus for returning a group of alleged military contractors back to Russia, shortly after they were arrested in Minsk. Lukashenko said the men had worked for a Russian mercenary company called Wagner Group, and had plotted to overthrow him.

    At the time, Zelensky called for the men to be sent to Ukraine so they could be prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.

  12. If you're just joining us

    Welcome to our live coverage of the unfolding row surrounding Ryanair flight FR4978. On Sunday the Belarusian authorities diverted the plane to land in Minsk and arrested opposition journalist Roman Protasevich on board.

    • Footage has emerged showing Protasevich speaking directly to the camera, confessing to crimes and saying he is being treated well
    • The 26-year-old was "super-scared" on his detention, according to witnesses, and told fellow passengers he would face the death penalty
    • International leaders have condemned Belarus's actions. European Council President Charles Michel called it "an international scandal"
    • The EU is meeting tonight to discuss possible sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and his government
    • A number of airlines have said they will avoid Belarus's airspace after the incident, and some governments are advising carriers to bypass the country
  13. BreakingVideo of detained journalist emerges

    Video footage of detained Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich

    In the last few moments a video has emerged in which opposition journalist Roman Protasevich apparently confesses to crimes he has been charged with by the Belarusian state.

    In the video Protasevich says he's being treated well in jail and that reports of heart problems are false. It was not immediately possible to verify whether the words were his own and had not been recorded under duress.

    The video appeared after an unconfirmed report circulated that he was in hospital in critical condition with heart disease.

    Protasevich is being held in a detention centre in Minsk, according to Belarus's interior ministry.

    An ardent opponent of Belarus's president, Protasevich was put on the country's list of "individuals involved in terrorist activity" for his role in mass protests last year. The charge of causing mass unrest can be punished by up to 15 years in jail.

  14. Who is Belarus’s president?

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
    Image caption: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994

    Belarus’s long-time president Alexander Lukashenko is a central character in this rapidly escalating incident of international concern.

    On Sunday, state media in Belarus said President Lukashenko had personally given the order to divert the Ryanair flight to Minsk.

    Since winning a disputed presidential election last August, Lukashenko, 66, who has ruled the country since 1994, has cracked down on dissenting voices.

    A former Soviet state farm director, Lukashenko was first elected president in 1994. A 1996 referendum gave the president greatly increased powers at the expense of parliament.

    But his latest attempt at prolonging his rule was met with mass street protests in August 2020, demanding that he step down after an election that the opposition said was rigged.

    Over the years, several opposition politicians who might have provided leadership have disappeared or been imprisoned. Insulting the president, even in jest, carries a prison sentence.

    For this authoritarian style of rule, Lukashenko is often referred to as Europe's last dictator.

  15. UK tells airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace

    Sniffer dog checks bags taken off Ryanair flight at Minsk

    The UK government has told airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace after the diversion of the Ryanair flight.

    Transport Secretary Grant Shapps tweeted that the move was necessary "to keep passengers safe".

    Mr Shapps said he has also suspended the operating permit of Belarus' state airline, Belavia, effectively banning it from the UK.

    The airline's timetable shows it operates a three-times weekly flight from Minsk to London's Gatwick airport.

    UK tells airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace

    Sniffer dog checks bags taken off Ryanair flight at Minsk

    Britain says carriers should by-pass Belarus after a flight was diverted to Minsk and a journalist held.

    Read more
    next
  16. BreakingOpposition journalist in jail, Belarus says

    Roman Protasevich, the opposition journalist who was arrested after his flight was diverted to Belarus, is being held in a detention centre in the capital Minsk, the country's interior ministry says.

    In a statement shared with state media, the ministry said Protasevich had not complained of ill health while in custody.

    Earlier his father, Dmitry, told the BBC that he feared his son may be tortured in custody, and could face the death penalty.

    Protasevich is wanted in connection with last year's mass protests against the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.

  17. Which airlines are avoiding Belarusian airspace?

    Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) planes are pictured at the Arlanda airport
    Image caption: Several airlines have said their planes will not fly over Belarus

    Several international airlines have said they will avoid Belarus's air space after the diversion of the flight.

    Those airlines include:

    • KLM, the flag carrier of the Netherlands
    • Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), the flag carrier of Denmark, Norway and Sweden
    • AirBaltic, the flag carrier of Latvia
    • Wizz Air, a Hungarian budget airline
    • Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline

    Some governments have advised airlines not to fly their planes over Belarusian airspace.

    UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he had instructed the UK Civil Aviation Authority to request airlines "avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe".

    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky went a step further. He ordered the government to stop direct flights in and out of Belarus.

    Further restrictions on flights through Belarus may be announced following a meeting of EU leaders this evening.

  18. Von der Leyen condemns 'utterly unacceptable hijacking'

    Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has spoken to journalists ahead of a special EU summit, where sanctions against Belarus will be discussed.

    In a video posted on Twitter Ms von der Leyen condemned what she called the "utterly unacceptable hijacking of a Ryanair flight".

    "There will be a very strong answer. Because it is outrageous behaviour and Lukashenko and his regime have to understand that this will have severe consequences," she said.

    She explained sanctions on individuals, companies and Belarus's aviation sector were all under discussion, adding that they were also putting pressure on the regime to immediately release journalist Roman Protasevich.

    And she ended by saying that there was a €3bn ($3.7bn; £2.6bn) economic and investment package for Belarus from the EU "ready to go".

    "That is on hold and frozen until Belarus turns democratic," she said.

    View more on twitter
  19. UN backs calls for international probe

    UN Secretary-General António Guterres
    Image caption: UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was concerned about the incident

    International pressure for an international investigation of the flight diversion in Belarus is growing by the minute.

    UN Secretary-General António Guterres says he is "deeply concerned" by the interception of the plane and arrest of the dissident journalist by Belarus.

    "The secretary general supports calls for a full, transparent and independent investigation into this disturbing incident and urges all relevant actors to cooperate with such an inquiry," his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric says in a statement.

    As we reported earlier, Belarus has, via its foreign minister, suggested it would allow "international specialists" to "transparently investigate this incident".

    But, given the political acrimony surrounding this incident, what Belarus and western European countries deem to be a transparent investigation could be quite far apart.

  20. How real are death penalty fears?

    Before he was detained in Minsk, opposition journalist Roman Protasevich is said to have told a fellow passenger: "A death penalty awaits me here."

    So how realistic is that fear?

    Belarus is the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union that still passes and carries out death sentences. Although no prisoners were executed last year, two were killed in 2019, according to Amnesty International.

    Last year, Protasevich tweeted that his name had appeared on a list of terror suspects in Belarus - and terrorism charges can carry the death penalty, Al Jazeera reports.

    Journalists have faced deteriorating conditions in the country. Earlier this year, media freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the UN to investigate the "persecution of journalists" in its investigation into the Belarusian government's post-eleciton crackdown, after two reporters said they were tortured in detention. And Belarus fell five places to 158 out of 180 countries on RSF's World Press Freedom Index.

    The Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, has spoken of its shock at Protasevich's detention, "even as President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s government has increasingly strangled the press in Belarus for the past year, detaining, fining, and expelling journalists and sentencing them to longer and longer prison terms".