EU court upholds sanctions against Belarus’ airspace regulator over Ryanair plane diversion

EU court upholds sanctions against Belarus’ airspace regulator over Ryanair plane diversion
Опубликовано: Wednesday, 15 February 2023 09:22

2021 hijacking sparked outrage around the world.

The EU was entitled to sanction Belarus’ airspace regulator after it diverted a Ryanair passenger plane in May 2021, the bloc’s General Court ruled Wednesday.

The court said state-owned Belaeronavigatsia could not reasonably have been unaware that its role in the diversion of flight FR4978 to Minsk contributed to the “repression of civil society and democratic opposition in Belarus.”

The EU Council added the company to its list of sanctioned Belarusian entities following the incident, which saw opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and his partner Sofia Sapiega arrested after the plane arrived in Minsk, instead of the intended destination, Vilnius.

It sparked outrage in the international community, with EU officials characterizing the incident as a hijacking and U.S. prosecutors charging four Belarusian government officials with aircraft piracy.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the U.N. agency that investigated the incident, found in January 2022 that the bomb threat the Belarusian air traffic controllers had flagged to the Ryanair flight’s pilot — which led to the diversion — was “deliberately false.”

A follow-up report from ICAO, obtained by POLITICO, revealed testimony from the Minsk-based air traffic controller who guided the pilot through the diversion to the Belarusian capital, in which he implicated Belaeronavigatsia’s director general.

Belaeronavigatsia challenged the Council’s decision, arguing it wasn’t fair that the Council didn’t have to prove that the company, which regulates airspace and provides air traffic assistance in Belarus, deliberately tried to repress civil society and democratic opposition through its actions.

But the court dismissed this, arguing that the wording of the Council’s criteria for its sanctions allows the EU to target any individual or company that “seriously undermines democracy” or the rule of law in Belarus — irrespective of whether or not that was actually intentional.

Belaeronavigatsia can still challenge this decision at the EU’s top-tier court, the Court of Justice.

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