Belarusian police arrested opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega on Sunday after forcing their Ryanair flight to land in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
Italy’s move echoed similar action taken by Germany, Britain, Belgium and the European Union following growing international outrage at Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
The charge d’affaires at the Belarusian embassy, Dmitry Yarmolyuk, was called for urgent talks with deputy foreign minister Benedetto Dalla Vedova, the Italian foreign ministry said.
The “inadmissible act … constitutes a very serious violation of international aviation safety standards for which Belarus will be held accountable,” Dalla Vedova told the Belarusian envoy.
He said Italy was discussing with EU partners a response “proportionate to the seriousness of the incident,” and called for the “immediate release” of the detained journalist and of his partner.
Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio told an online meeting the move was “unacceptable”, adding: “We’re talking about a state hijacking”, according to Italian news agencies ANSA and AGI.
He said he expected the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, to discuss the matter with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“It is clear that this is not only a European question but a question of the alliance of values that we share with many of our allies, including overseas,” Di Maio added.
EU leaders meeting Monday in Brussels were expected to debate further sanctions on Belarus, which has been shaken by unprecedented mass protests since a disputed election last year extended Lukashenko’s hold on power.
The stopped plane was later allowed to leave Minsk, without Protasevich, Sapega and reportedly four other passengers.
Authorities in Belarus on Monday insisted they acted legally when they diverted Ryanair flight FR4978 from its Athens-to-Vilnius route to Minsk. The government accused western governments of making unfounded claims for political reasons.