Belarus TV broadcasts tearful interview with jailed activist Roman Protasevich

Moscow: Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, who was arrested after his plane was forced to land in Minsk, appeared on state television Thursday in a tearful interview that family and campaigners say was conducted under duress.

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Looking uncomfortable in the video, Protasevich – the co-founder and former editor of opposition Telegram channel Nexta which galvanised anti-government demonstrations – confessed to calling for protests last year and praised Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

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At the end of the 1.5-hour interview broadcast by Belarus state-run channel ONT Thursday evening, Protasevich began crying and covered his face with his hands.

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The 26-year-old’s father, Dmitry Protasevich, said that the video was the result of “abuse, torture and threats.”

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“I know my son very well and I believe that he would never say such things,” he told AFP.

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“They broke him and forced him to say what was needed,” he said, adding it pained him to watch the interview.

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“I am very worried.”

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read more

  • Who is Roman Protasevich, the captive journalist in Belarus?

  • EU outrage as Belarus diverts flight, arrests opposition activist

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Belarusian authorities accuse Protasevich of organising mass riots, a charge that could land him in prison for 15 years.

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Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said it was “painful to see ‘confessions'” of Protasevich and called him a “hostage of the regime”.

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‘Pure propaganda’

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Ahead of the broadcast, independent rights group Viasna said that Protasevich must have been coerced into speaking by Belarusian security services because he is facing “unfair, but very serious accusations”.

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“Everything Protasevich will say was said under duress – at the very least psychological duress,” Viasna head Ales Bialiatski told AFP Thursday.

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“Whatever he is saying now is pure propaganda, under which there is no truthful basis.”

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Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, were arrested in Minsk on May 23 after Belarus scrambled a military jet to divert the Athens-Vilnius Ryanair plane they were travelling on.

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They were accused of helping to coordinate historic demonstrations that broke out following Lukashenko’s disputed re-election last August.

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Immediately after their arrest both Protasevich and Sapega appeared in “confession” videos that their supporters said were also recorded under duress and are a common tactic of the regime to pressure critics.

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Protasevich’s parents said at the time their son looked like he had been beaten in the video.

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In response to the arrests the European Union banned Belarusian state carrier Belavia from operating flights to airports in the bloc and discouraged EU-based airlines from flying over the ex-Soviet country.

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In response to the protests, Belarus authorities waged a brutal crackdown on the opposition and civil society, detaining and imprisoning thousands of demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile. Several people died in the unrest.

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