Grant Shapps Instructs UK Airlines To Avoid Belarusian Airspace After Journalist's Arrest
Shapps ordered UK airlines to avoid travelling over the country's airspace (PA)
The Transport Secretary has also suspended the operating permit of Belarusion airline, Belavia, after a journalist was detained on a Ryanair flight.
Shapps ordered the move after the flight, travelling from Athens to Lithuania, was forced to land in Belarus' capital, Minsk on Sunday, where officials arrested journalist and opposition activist Roman Protasevich.
Announcing the step on Monday, Shapps said: "Following the forced diversion of a Ryanair aircraft to Minsk yesterday, I’ve instructed the [UK's Civil Aviation Authority] to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe."
He added: "I have also suspended Belavia’s operating permit."
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab hit out at the "shocking assault on civil aviation" as he confirmed flights between the UK and Belarus had also been suspended.
It comes after the government ordered Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko to release Protasevich, warning that further sanctions may be imposed against the country if he is kept in jail.
The aircraft had been forced to land in Belarus after the country's air traffic control issued a false warning that there could be a bomb on board the plane.
When the plane landed in Minsk, state security officers arrested the 26-year-old journalist, who could now face the death penalty for organising protests against President Lukashenko.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, is a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and has faced international pressure for violent crackdowns against opposition figures in the country.
In a statement after the arrest, Raab said: "The UK condemns yesterday’s actions by the Belarusian authorities, who arrested journalist Roman Protasevich on the basis of a ruse, having forced his flight to land in Minsk. Mr Lukashenko must be held to account for his outlandish actions.
"The UK calls for the immediate release of Mr Protasevich and other political prisoners held in Belarus."
Meanwhile, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said the incident amounted to a "state-sponsored hijacking", adding: "It was clear it appears that the intent of the Russian authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion. We believe there was also some KGB agents offloaded from the aircraft as well."