The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has announced urgent discussions into the “hijacking” of Ryanair flight FR4978 by the government of Belarus.

A spokesman said ICAO’s 36-member council, which is based in Montreal, will hold an “exceptional session” to “share and review the latest information available, and discuss” the forced diversion and grounding of the aircraft in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

Legal experts are reported to have said any failure by Belarus’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, to back down over the arrests of the journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega would result in the eventual expulsion of the country from the international convention which facilitates travel for the country’s national airline Belavia.

Belavia’s operating permit suspended by EU and UK

Both the EU and UK have responded to the grounding by warning its carriers to avoid Belarus airspace and suspending Belavia’s operating permit, effectively banning the carrier from flying over European territories. Expulsion from the convention would mean that neither the safety standards of Belarusian aircraft or its ground control would be automatically recognised.

The 36-member council of the ICAO, based in Montreal, will hold an “exceptional session” to “share and review the latest information available, and discuss” the forced grounding of the aircraft in Minsk, a spokesperson said.

“Copycat attacks” could spell the end of international aviation

Aviation lawyer Elmar Giemulla, told The Guardian: “The question for the ICAO is not just to punish somebody. The problem is the danger of copying. If ICAO reacts in a soft way this could encourage other autocrats in the world, and there are many of them, to ignore and disregard the international community. If this spreads all over the place, we can forget international aviation.”

Belarus is a signatory to the 1944 Chicago convention which establishes common rules of aviation safety and details the rights of its signatories. The convention includes the safe and secure crossing of flights over national airspace with ICAO’s members are responsible for enforcement action.

Passenger jet was escorted by a MiG-29 fighter

Belarus has been accused of violating these terms by forcing the pilot of the Ryanair flight to land in Minsk using fake claims of a bomb onboard. The flight was en-route from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania when it was forced to land, with a MiG-29 fighter jet sent by the Belarusian regime to escort the aircraft to the ground. An ICAO spokesperson said he would not “pre-empt their talks or speculate on what aspects of the incident, of the convention, or of other treaties their discussions may focus on.”

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