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4 Jun, 2021 10:12

Belarusian opposition decry state TV interview with ‘hostage’ Protasevich as jailed activist voices fear of extradition to Donbass

Belarusian opposition decry state TV interview with ‘hostage’ Protasevich as jailed activist voices fear of extradition to Donbass

Belarusian state TV has aired a so-called confession interview with Roman Protasevich, the formerly exiled activist jailed after his plane was forcefully grounded in Minsk last month. His allies are calling it a “hostage” video.

Protasevich appears to have been coerced to confess under threat of deportation to the unrecognized Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), in the east of Ukraine, where he is wanted for alleged participation in combat operations in Donbass during the 2014 war. Multiple photos and videos have emerged from the region showing the activist alongside the neo-Nazi Azov battalion, deemed by the LPR to be a terrorist organization.

“The only thing I hope is that [President] Alexander Grigorievich [Lukashenko] has enough political will and enough determination not to extradite me,” Protasevich said in the broadcast. He also praised Lukashenko in a manner at odds with his previous attitude to the embattled long-time Belarusian leader. 

READ MORE: Western enemies of Belarus are using country as ‘testing ground’ before an attack on Russia, says embattled President Lukashenko

Many have suggested the interview was given under duress, with several viewers noting marks on the detainee’s hands. Minsk has been previously accused of extracting so-called “confessions” under torture, with London-based human rights group Amnesty International saying it has been “used by the Belarusian authorities to intimidate their opponents and discredit detainees.”

“Torture and other ill-treatment have been widespread in Belarus against detained opponents of Alexander Lukashenko, who claims to have won the August 2020 elections,” an Amnesty statement said, following a previously published video featuring Protasevich.

In response to the interview, a number of Belarusian opposition figures came out to condemn the authorities. In particular, Franak Viačorka, a senior advisor to former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who is also attached to NATO’s Atlantic Council adjunct, called the confession “painful,” and labeled Protasevich a “hostage of the regime.”

Earlier in the week, Tikhanovskaya herself revealed that she refused to believe reports from Protasevich’s lawyer that he was in a normal state, noting how “for sure he was tortured, for sure he was beaten.”

Speaking to Moscow-based outlet TV Rain, Protasevich’s father, Dmitry, claimed his son had been forced to say “everything” he had said.

“You look at his first reaction at the beginning of the video, and even during the video, it is very clear that he has an internal struggle between what he has to say and what he does not want to say,” his father said. “It is very hard for him to say these things, and I am sure that he was forced. I am sure that he was intimidated.”

Also on rt.com Ryanair plane may have landed in Minsk due to fake bomb threat by angry opposition colleague, says Belarusian activist Protasevich

Protasevich was arrested on May 23, when a Ryanair jet from Greece was forced to land in Minsk because of a supposed bomb threat. However, the e-mail with the apparent warning was later said by Swiss provider ProtonMail to have been sent after the plane was diverted, contradicting the authorities’ claims. As soon as the plane landed, police boarded the aircraft and arrested Protasevich, along with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. Later, when no bomb was found, the plane was able to continue on its way to its original destination in Lithuania.

The activist came to prominence in Belarus last year, after the Poland-based Telegram channel NEXTA for which he worked garnered a huge following for its role in helping to publicize and document protests against the Belarusian president following disputed elections. He previously worked for US state-run broadcaster RFE/RL.

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