In comparison to the Ryanair flight, there have already been cases where a state forced a civilian aircraft to make an emergency landing. In 2013, for example, the plane of then-Bolivian President Evo Morales en route from Moscow had to land in Vienna because France and Portugal unexpectedly denied the plane overflight rights. The reason for this was the suspicion that the American ex-intelligence agent Edward Snowden was on board the presidential plane, whose extradition was demanded by American authorities. However, Snowden was not found on board when the plane was searched.
This is an emerging pro-Kremlin disinformation narrative about the arrest of a Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Pratasevich.
The cited example of the aircraft landing with Evo Morales did not involve bomb scares or crackdowns on the political opposition. In July 2013, under the Obama administration, Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria, amid U.S. pressure, in a hunt for U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden, who was thought to be aboard.
But unlike the Belarusian plot, which involved fighter jets and bomb threats, the Bolivian flight was brought down by bureaucracy: European nations refused it permission to enter their airspace, Bolivian officials later told reporters, leaving them with no clear route back home after a trip to Moscow. The plane subsequently landed in Austria because it needed to refuel, and Heinz Fischer, Austria’s president at the time, met with Morales at the airport.
According to The Washington Post, some analysts see the arrest of the journalist Pratasevich as part of a more recent trend — what Freedom House, a nongovernmental, nonpartisan advocacy organisation, has dubbed “transnational repression.”
Roman Pratasevich is one of the founders of the Telegram channel NEXTA that had been a key source to disseminating images of state violence during Belarusian protests last year.
The EU condemned Belarusian action against civil plane and the detention of Pratasevich. In a declaration on behalf of the EU on the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 to Minsk on 23 May 2021, the High Representative called for the immediate release of Mr Pratasevich. This was followed by a European Council statement, in which the EU leaders called for targeted individual and economic sanctions as well as to ban overflight of EU airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to EU airports of flights operated by these.
Read similar disinfo cases alleging that forcing down aircraft is common practice among special forces and that NEXTA is the Polish provocative Telegram channel.