The dissident journalist from Belarus - detained by authorities after his Ryanair flight was intercepted by a Soviet-era fighter jet and forced to land in Minsk – claimed in a video posted online Monday that he was in good health and that he had helped organize mass protests against the Belarusian government.
Roman Protasevich, wearing a dark sweatshirt, with his hands tightly clasped in front of him, said he was in a pre-trial detention facility in Minsk and denied reports on social media that he was having heart problems.
“I can state that I don't have any health issues, including heart or any other organs' diseases. Police officers treat me properly and according to the law. Also, I now continue to cooperate with the investigation and confessed to organizing mass protests in Minsk."
But his allies are not buying it – including a leader of the Belarusian opposition, who wrote on Twitter, “This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure. I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners.”
Protasevich and 23-year-old Sophia Sapega, a student traveling with him, were on a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania when Belarus authorities scrambled a fighter jet and forced it to land in Minsk, taking the two into custody.
[EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT, URSULA VON DER LEYEN]: “There will be a very strong answer, because it is outrageous behavior….”
European Union leaders meeting in Brussels called for Belarusian airlines to be banned from the 27-nation bloc's airspace and urged EU-based carriers to avoid flying over the former Soviet republic.
[WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI]: “This was a shocking act…”
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the act a (quote) “brazen affront to international peace” and said the U.S. demands an international probe.
The EU and the U.S. imposed several rounds of financial sanctions against Minsk last year, which had no effect on the behavior of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who withstood mass demonstrations against his rule after a disputed election.
Lukashenko denies election fraud. Since the disputed vote, authorities rounded up thousands of his opponents, with all major opposition figures now in jail or exile.
Belarus says it acted in response to a false bomb threat from the Palestinian militant group Hamas. A Hamas spokesman denied his group had any knowledge or connection to the matter.
When the Ryanair plane finally landed in Lithuania, authorities there said five passengers never arrived, suggesting three others may also still be in Minsk.