EU leaders are due to discuss their response to what the union’s executive called a “hijacking” and the US state department said was “a shocking act”.
Belarus scrambled a fighter jet to force the plane – bound for Lithuania – to land, claiming a bomb threat.
Police took Roman Protasevich away when passengers disembarked. The 26-year-old was aboard the Ryanair plane, which was flying from the Greek capital, Athens. The aircraft was due to land in Vilnius, but was still in Belarusian airspace when it was told to divert to Minsk, the capital of Belarus.
Witnesses said the activist was “super-scared” and told fellow passengers he would face the death penalty – Belarus is the only European country that still executes prisoners.
Since winning a disputed election last August, Mr Lukashenko, 66, who has ruled the country since 1994, has cracked down on dissenting voices. Many opposition figures have been arrested, while others fled into exile.
The incident drew sharp condemnation from across the European Union, with countries urging the immediate release of Mr Protasevich and a full investigation.
The EU later summoned the Belarusian ambassador and informed him of the bloc’s “firm condemnation”. Dozens of Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko.—Agencies