It has all of the elements of a Jason Bourne plot: A commercial flight carrying a dissident journalist is intercepted by a MiG-29 fighter jet under orders from the strongman president of Belarus.
This protagonist is very much real. His name is Roman Protasevich, and on Sunday, he drew worldwide attention because the Belarusian government and its authoritarian leader went to extraordinary lengths to stop him.
Mr. Protasevich, 26, was traveling by commercial airline from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, when the Belarusian air force scrambled a fighter jet. The flight, on the Irish airline Ryanair, was diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the millennial opposition figure was taken into custody.
The widely condemned tactic was the latest attempt by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian leader, to suppress the influential voice of Mr. Protasevich.
NEXTA channel on the social media platform Telegram, which has become a popular conduit for Mr. Lukashenko’s foes to share information and organize demonstrations against the government.
He fled the country in 2019, fearing arrest. But he has continued to roil Mr. Lukashenko’s regime while living in exile in Lithuania, so much so that he was charged in November with inciting public disorder and social hatred.
As a teenager, Mr. Protasevich became a dissident, first drawing scrutiny from law enforcement. He was expelled from a prestigious school for participating in a protest rally in 2011 and later was expelled from the journalism program of the Minsk State University.
What happened on Sunday?
Mr. Protasevich was returning to Vilnius from an economic conference in Greece with the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Greek officials said.
Twitter on Sunday for its detention of Mr. Protasevich. He called it a “brazen and shocking act to divert a commercial flight and arrest a journalist.”
“We demand an international investigation and are coordinating with our partners on next steps,” Mr. Blinken said. “The United States stands with the people of Belarus.”
What kind of punishment is he facing?
The government’s main security agency in Belarus, called the K.G.B., placed Mr. Protasevich’s name on a list of terrorists. If he is accused and convicted of terrorism, he could face the death penalty.
The charges of inciting public disorder and social hatred carry a punishment of more than 12 years in prison.