I have been closely following the news on the events that happened in Belarus on the afternoon of Sunday, 23rd May 2021. It was stuff from fiction movies! What happened was that passengers aboard Ryanair Flight 4978 were cruising towards to Vilnius, Lithuania from Athens, Greece. The flight had so far been normal, with nothing but the occasional annoying but equally important announcements that people hardly ever hear. Then, one of the two things that people fear most in flights happened, and it was not that they all got bad tummies. It was the fear of death.
As the pilot and the copilot were talking about whatever it is that pilots talk about while flying, air traffic controllers at Minsk radioed in with scaring news. They had reason to believe that there was a bomb in the aircraft and so they were recommending that the plane lands immediately. The nearest airport to land in was in Vilnius, but the recommendation suggested Minsk, which was further away. To see through the landing, a Belarusian fighter jet capable of shooting down the plane if it failed to comply appeared on one of the wings.
The pilot, obviously perplexed at the happenings, announced that there was an emergency and the plane had to make an immediate landing. He steered the plane, making drastic adjustments to his speed and altitude as he was meant to touch down in Vilnius, not the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
The passengers looked like how one looks when they are in a flight and not sure whether they are crushing or being hijacked. And you can’t quite blame them for the confusion because put yourself in their position; what would you do? One of the passengers in particular, had the face that I imagine Jonah had when the tempest happened and he knew he had something to do with it. Later, another passenger would describe this particular passenger as looking like wished he could open a window and jump right out into the atmosphere!
Their forced decent terminated in Minsk airport. They were asked to disembark and their luggage was sniffed by sniffer dogs. All this while, the particular passenger who looked like Jonah had been separated from the rest of the passengers, and from the expression he was wearing it wouldn’t take you long to notice a problem. When the sort-of-relieved passengers sat in the plane again more than 5 hours, the particular passenger’s seat and that of his girlfriend were empty. Two other seats that had initially been occupied were empty.
It turned out that the bomb threat was fake. It was all a show to arrest the particular passenger, Mr Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. The two had been persons of interest to the Belarusian government because they were vocal activists who had dared to speak up against the authoritarian leadership of dictator Alexander Lukashenko. While they had been exiled in Lithuania, the two had continued to condemn the forced administration through online media channels and, had proved to be thorns in the ass of Lukashenko. For this obvious reason, he was motivated to take them out.
The other two empty seats are believed to be of Belarusian KGB agents, who had been trailing Mr Protasevich. While in detainment, a video of Mr Protasevich was released, where he claimed to be fine and safe. At the same time, he also confessed to orchestrating the mass unrest that happened in 2020, a crime for which he could be jailed for up to 15 years.
And because the world had caught up with the nonsense, Lukashenko’s government later claimed the flight had been diverted because of an emailed bomb threat from Hamas, but the Palestinian militant group denied any involvement. Lukashenko also spoke publicly to defend his actions, insisting that the bomb threat was real and that the diversion of the Ryanair flight had taken place near a nuclear power plant. He said that he had to protect his people; that he was thinking about the security of Belarus.
Many governments, leaders and people have since rebuked Lukashenko, who has been termed as Europe’s last dictator. The EU has even gone further to impose sanctions.
I write this story because it made me reflect on a few things:-
a. Firstly, life just got a lot more harder for dissenting voices in authoritarian governments. Not only is it harder for them to hide, it is even harder for them to ran.
b. Lukashenko has began what will now be a common trend with dictators. I will not be surprised if we see more of such incidents.
c. Are there laws that stop roguish governments from forcibly taking control of a civilian planes (just like terrorists do)? What do they say and how are they implemented? What demonstrative action can be taken against Lukashenko that will make others wit such intentions to back down?
d. How did we get to a place where the governments WE created became so powerful that we no longer have a stake in their operations? Putting aside such reasons as greed, corruption etc, how did we actually lose power we created?
e. In as much as I would love to fight for human rights and the development of society, I would not want to be branded an activist. All the activists I know are either dead, almost died or have targets on their heads. That is not the sort of life I would like to live. But how does one question an oppressive government without coming out as hostile to the oppressive government?
I continue to follow this extraordinary piece of news and see where it leads.