Sat. May 21st, 2022

Leonid Churo, the director of the State Air Navigation Agency, Belaeronavigatsia Republican Unitary Air Navigation Services Enterprise, and three others were charged with a single charge of conspiracy to commit piracy of aircraft, of having called a false bomb threat to Minsk air traffic control and then covered up by ordering air traffic controllers to falsify incident reports about the redirection of the passenger aircraft.

“The defendants are based in Belarus and remain at large,” a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday.

The original route on 23 May 2021 was from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital – a path that crosses through Belarus.

According to prosecutors, Churo personally called the fake bomb threat and instructed Minsk air traffic control to divert the passenger plane to Minsk.

The redirection led to the arrest of leading Belarusian opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, which caused international uproar.
Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich appears on state television, while critics condemn his detention as a
The incident took place when the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, had averted opposition protests since he claimed victory after a highly controversial election widely condemned by the international community.

Protasevich was one of dozens of journalists and activists campaigning against Lukashenko’s government in exile.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, was abruptly deployed for his sixth consecutive term in September 2020 after an election that the EU said was not legitimate.

Amid mass protests in Belarus that followed, Lukashenko and the state security apparatus were forcibly relocated or detained by leading opposition figures.

Protasevich is the founder of the Telegram channel Nexta, which helped mobilize anti-Lukashenko protests. In 2020, he was accused of “organizing mass riots and group actions that grossly violate public order.”

Last June, Protasevich appeared on Belarusian state media, saying he “pleaded guilty” to organizing large-scale “unsanctioned protests” following the country’s controversial election.

Critics of the government feared that the young dissident was forced to speak to the nation under duress.

Later that month, Protasevich was moved from a detention facility to house arrest, Reuters reported.

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