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2021-06-03

3 days agoShare pageAbout sharingRelated TopicsRyanair Belarus flight diversionA still from the video of Roman Protasevich released on Mondayimage copyrightNextaimage captionA video of Roman Protasevich appearing to confess to crimes was released by Belarus authorities late on Monday

International anger has grown over the detention of an opposition Belarusian journalist, after the Ryanair plane he was travelling on was forced to land.

Here’s what we know so far about the arrest of Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend.

Ryanair flight FR4978 was travelling from the Greek capital, Athens, to Vilnius in Lithuania on Sunday afternoon.

Passengers said the journey had been calm and the plane had begun its gradual descent to Vilnius when it made an abrupt change of course.

What happens with a military jet interception?Fliers describe panic on diverted Ryanair planeIs plane interception a first?

According to an unverified transcript released by the Belarusian transport ministry, air traffic controllers told the pilot at 09:30 GMT “you have bomb on board and it can be activated over Vilnius”. Even though the plane was closer to Vilnius than the Belarus capital, the pilot was told to divert to Minsk. At 09:47 the pilot declared a emergency.

An earlier transcript broadcast by Belarus TV had made it look as though the crew had asked to land in Minsk.

The plane then landed at 10:16 GMT (13:16 local time). A military MiG jet escorted the plane to the airport.

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Leading opposition figure Pavel Latushko alleged Belarus had threatened to shoot down the plane. Exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said on Monday that she had been on the same flight a week earlier.

When the plane’s 126 passengers disembarked, police arrested Mr Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

Belarus later claimed the flight had been diverted because of an emailed bomb threat from Hamas, but the Palestinian militant group denied any involvement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the Belarusian claim as “completely implausible”.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko told parliament the email originated in Switzerland, however Swiss authorities say they know nothing about it, and Swiss email provider Proton Technologies said it had not seen “credible evidence that the Belarusian claims are true.”

Adding to the mystery, a London-based research group Dossier Center published what it said was the emailed threat from Hamas, showing it was sent 24 minutes after the Belarusian authorities had ordered the flight’s diversion, the Daily Beast and Newlines magazine first reported.

The timing of the email was also confirmed by Proton Technologies.

The email address, from someone calling themselves Ahmed Yurlanov, was also created around 14 May, just a week before the incident.

The leader of Belarus spoke publicly on Wednesday 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.

“I had to protect people, I was thinking about the country’s security,” Alexander Lukashenko said in an address to lawmakers in Minsk.

However, he also accused domestic and foreign “ill-wishers” of using the incident to attack the country.

“They have crossed many red lines and have abandoned common sense and human morals,” he said.

Shortly afterwards, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin supported Belarus’ position.

“The Kremlin sees no reason not to trust statements from the leadership of Belarus,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to the AFP news agency.

He added that the two leaders would hold talks in the Russian city of Sochi on Friday.

Mr Protasevich is a former editor of Nexta, a dissident media operation with a popular Telegram messenger channel. He left Belarus in 2019 and now lives in exile in Lithuania. Nexta became a significant channel for protesters challenging the August 2020 presidential election in Belarus, widely condemned as rigged.

Who is dissident Roman Protasevich?

After the Ryanair plane landed on Sunday, witnesses said Mr Protasevich was “super-scared”. Nexta’s editor tweeted that according to the journalist’s mother, Roman Protasevich was suffering from heart disease.

media captionRoman Protasevich’s father tells the BBC he is fearful his son may be tortured

But in a video clip released on Monday, Mr Protasevich said he was in good health and appeared to confess to crimes he had been charged with by the Belarusian state.

Activists, including the country’s main opposition leader, said they believed Mr Protasevich had spoken under duress. Mr Protasevich’s father has told the BBC he fears his son may be tortured.

According to Sofia Sapega’s mother, the couple were returning from a holiday in Greece and the 23-year-old has been taken to a Minsk jail.

The last word she managed to write on her WhatsApp messaging account was “Mummy”.

Sofia Sapegaimage copyrightReuters

Ms Sapega is now facing an extended two-month detention, according to her father.

She too has appeared in a video released by authorities in which she appears to be reading under duress from a prepared statement. In the video, Ms Sapega says she edits a Telegram channel that publishes personal information of Belarusian policemen.

She has been studying for final law exams at the European Humanities University in Vilnius. Although Russian-born, she has spent most of her life in Belarus, a fellow student said. He added that she was not an opposition activist.

Her university has protested over the Belarusian authorities’ actions.

Ms Sapega’s mother Anna Dudich told BBC Russian that Sofia had not been working for opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Lithuania.

“She got to know Roman only about a year and a half ago,” her mother said.

Other than Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, it is thought that at least three other passengers remained in Belarus.

Belarus TV rejected as “sick fantasies and fiction” reports that several intelligence agents were on the plane. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary suggested KGB agents may have been on board, a point backed up by Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.

Belarusian security officials with with a sniffer dog checking the luggage of passengers in front of the diverted Ryanair flight at Minsk airport. Photo: 23 May 2021image copyrightHO via EPAimage captionFurther details have emerged of the passengers who did not get back on board in Minsk

But Greek media have listed three names of passengers said to have remained in Minsk, and they have been reported by Belarus state TV too. Iason Zisis, said to be a doctoral researcher at Eindhoven University, told Belarus 1TV he was visiting his wife in Minsk so it made sense to disembark. Belarus TV named another passenger, Alexandra Stabredova, who said she asked to stay in Minsk. Sergei Kulakov said his final destination was the city of Vitebsk in northern Belarus.

Russia says Ms Sapega was the only Russian to remain in Minsk.

The journalist faces charges of organising mass unrest after covering the events of the 2020 presidential election from abroad. The offence carries a possible jail term of up to 15 years. However, Mr Protasevich tweeted a KGB list of terrorism suspects last year, adding that he had been placed on it alongside Islamic State jihadists.

When the plane landed in Minsk, Mr Protasevich reportedly told a fellow passenger: “A death penalty awaits me here.” According to some reports, terrorism offences carry the death penalty in Belarus.

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 executed in 2019, according to Amnesty International.

Journalists have been arrested and independent media targeted in recent months. On Tuesday, Belarus sentenced seven activists – including senior opposition figure Pavel Severinets – to between four and seven years for their part in last year’s protests.

Another political activist jailed over the unrest, 50-year-old Vitold Ashurok, died of cardiac arrest at a penal colony in the east of the country last week. Authorities have released a shocking video of Ashurok twice collapsing in his cell. In a letter to his wife a few weeks before he died he said that political prisoners had yellow tags sewn into their clothes.

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-election crackdown, after two reporters said they were tortured in detention.

In its initial statement after Flight FR4978 arrived in Lithuania following a seven-hour delay on the ground in Minsk, the airline said the plane had been cleared for take-off together with passengers and crew. No mention was made of the arrested Belarusian journalist or his girlfriend. That statement was changed the next day to condemn an act of “aviation piracy”.

Europe airlines redirect flights away from BelarusWhat action has the EU taken against Belarus?

Ryanair’s chief executive told Irish radio on Monday that it was very frightening for both crew and passengers.

The airline was not alone in failing to point out that two passengers had been forced off the plane. EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean went on social media to hail “great news for everyone”, although she later appealed for Protasevich’s release.

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Alistair Coleman, BBC Monitoring Disinformation Specialist

Belarusian authorities have muddied the waters over the detention of Mr Protasevich and how the Ryanair flight was forced to land.

Aside from a new air traffic control transcript that contradicts the version of events given by Belarusian state TV, the pro-Lukashenko press has portrayed the dissident journalist as an extremist with right-wing sympathies.

Belarus Segodnya, a newspaper published by the presidential administration, has claimed that Mr Protasevich was a mercenary who fought in eastern Ukraine with the nationalist Azov Battalion, which has been accused of neo-Nazi links.

Mr Protasevich confirmed in an interview last year that he had spent a year in the conflict-hit Donbas region and was wounded, but said he was covering the conflict as a journalist and photographer.

A former commander of the Azov unit has backed Mr Protasevich’s version of events, confirming that he spent time with them as a journalist and was wounded.

Digitally altered photograph on the front cover of an Azov Battalion magazineimage copyrightBlack Sun

A photograph on the front cover of an Azov Battalion magazine from July 2015, which shows an armed man in army fatigues who bears a resemblance to Mr Protasevich, has been shared by his critics as “evidence” that he was there in a military capacity. But neither the image nor the claim of his involvement with the Azov regiment have been independently verified.

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Local Sports

May 26, 2021

Dana Becker

Sports Reporter

dbecker@messengernews.net

Being heavily involved in activities and athletics at St. Edmond High School helped shape David Flattery into the person he is today.

Now, Flattery wants to do the same for the next generation of Gaels.

The school announced on Tuesday that Flattery has been hired as the new activities and athletics director. His tenure will officially begin August 1.

Most recently, Flattery has served as the pitching coach for the Iowa Central Community College baseball program.

A 2013 graduate of St. Edmond, as well as an Iowa Central, the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Augustana University alum, Flattery will rely on those teaching moments he experienced as a youth in his new position.

^I want to be that light for students, ̄ he said. ^I want to be a positive influence for as many people as I can. That¨s what drives me.

^Sports and activities are fun, but what¨s so great about them is that they teach you lessons to make you successful later in life. That is really my life in a nutshell. ̄

Flattery was an all-stater for St. Edmond and the 2013 Terry Griffey Award winner, competing in football, basketball, golf, track and baseball. He later went on to pitch for Iowa Central, UNO and Augustana, helping the Vikings win the 2018 NCAA Div. II national title.

^I was thrilled with the quality of applicants we had for this position, ̄ said Mary Gibb, president of St. Edmond Catholic Schools. ^To have a former all-state student-athlete that wants to come back and lead a program that gave so much to him during his high school career is invaluable.

^David looks forward to being a role model for students and he plans to bring the faith component back into our athletic programs. I¨m very excited for David to begin his duties August 1. ̄

But athletics were only part of Flattery¨s upbringing. A business major, he was an Academic All-American at Iowa Central and made the Summit League Academic Honor Roll after being involved in choir, band, musical and jazz band as a Gael.

^I hope I can relate to a lot of students, ̄ Flattery said. ^I met a lot of people while I was in school by branching out and being involved. Hopefully every single student feels comfortable with confiding in me and coming to me with anything they have questions about. ̄

Flattery earned his A.A. degree from Iowa Central in 2015, his business administration from UNO in 2017 and his Master¨s in sports administration and leadership from Augustana in 2019.

Upon graduating from Augustana, Flattery accepted a position with the Triton coaching staff. He admits the career shift was one not on his mind before it came together, but quickly became a strong desire.

^Even a month ago, I was talking with the Minnesota Twins about a position because that was something of interest to me, ̄ Flattery said. ^I started getting calls right away when the opening St. Edmond came up and I really took time to think about it and pray about it.

^It really seemed like the right thing to do so I gave it a shot, went through the process and it just really seemed like a good fit. ̄

Flattery found himself feeling nostalgic during the interview process.

^Walking through the halls and seeing familiar faces really brought a joy to me, ̄ he said. ^I felt a strong excitement to be back there and to work with the people that changed my life growing up.

^It¨s just super, super exciting. ̄

Flattery will remain with Iowa Central through June to assist in recruiting for the upcoming season.

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