Jailed Belarusian journalist paraded on state TV in confessional 'interview'

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Family and friends of Roman Protasevich have compared his "interview" with state TV to a hostage video - Screengrab/ONT/Screengrab/ONT
Family and friends of Roman Protasevich have compared his "interview" with state TV to a hostage video - Screengrab/ONT/Screengrab/ONT

The dissident Belarusian journalist hauled off a Ryanair flight and thrown in jail has been paraded on Belarusian state television in an hour-long interview that his family and colleagues say was filmed under duress.

Belarus last month scrambled a fighter jet, forcing a flight destined for Lithuania to land in Minsk and arrested Roman Protasevich, former editor-in-chief of the opposition mouthpiece Nexta, who was travelling from Athens with his girlfriend.

The 26-year-old journalist “confessed” on Belarusian state TV channel ONT to having organised what he called violent riots in Minsk last summer and voiced praise for Alexander Lukashenko, who won a rigged vote in August 2020.

Nexta, the channel on the messaging app Telegram Mr Protasevich co-founded and edited until last September, emerged as a crucial tool helping anti-government activists to organise last year’s mass protests in Belarus following Mr Lukashenko’s dubious win.

Mr Protasevich looked uncomfortable in the video, and one frame showed injuries on his wrists. He broke down in tears at the end, burying his face in his hands. He said he wanted to live a “normal life” and stop involving himself in politics.

"Confession" videos by his opponents have been part of Mr Lukashenko’s playbook for years. Dmitry Protasevich, the journalist's father, said the video was painful for him to watch and clearly shows that it was filmed under duress.

“Knowing my son and what Roman is saying here - this is not him saying that,” he said on Russian TV channel Dozhd.

“It’s clearly very difficult for him to speak but I’m sure he has been coerced to talk, I’m sure he’s been intimidated.”

The man’s father also said he suspected that the Lukashenko regime could be using Roman’s girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen, to force a confession out of him.

Ms Sapega has been kept in a Belarusian KGB jail without charge since being detained.

Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled opposition leader, said on Thursday it pained him to watch the video:

“This is not the Roman I know. This man on Goebbels’ TV is a hostage of the regime.”

“Raman Pratasevich’s forced ‘confession’ on Belarusian state TV was devastating to watch," said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia director.

"He was plainly on the edge of breaking down, in tears and with visible wounds on his wrists, as he was forced to incriminate himself and praise his captors. It was a televised coercion.”

Hundreds of people were tortured in custody by the Lukashenko regime in the aftermath of election protests.

Over 2,300 Belarusians have faced charges over their activism since last summer, and nearly 500 are now listed as political prisoners, according to the human rights group Viasna.

The forced landing of the Ryanair plane sparked a major row between Belarus and the West.

The European Union has banned Belarusian national carrier Belavia from its airspace, and most European airlines have scrapped flights to Minsk and have started bypassing Belarusian airspace.

EU diplomats are expected to ban Belavia from flying over European airspace later on Friday, Bloomberg reported.

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