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8 Jul, 2021 09:02

Belarusian activist Protasevich returns to Twitter from house arrest, claiming passenger jet grounding gave him fear of flying

Belarusian activist Protasevich returns to Twitter from house arrest, claiming passenger jet grounding gave him fear of flying

Roman Protasevich, the ex-editor of an opposition Belarusian Telegram channel now being held by authorities in the country, has made a return to the online world, posting a clip for his supporters from a new social media account.

In the video, uploaded on Wednesday to Twitter, the activist said he was “slowly returning to life on the internet” and would answer questions from followers as quickly as possible. His previous account, he says, had been blocked. In a number of subsequent tweets, he revealed that he was currently under house arrest “not in Minsk, but in a private house outside the city” along with his girlfriend.

Protasevich and his partner, Russian national Sofia Sapega, were detained when their Ryanair flight was instructed to land in the Belarusian capital while transiting the country’s airspace between Greece and Lithuania, where they had been living. Officials warned pilots they had received a threat that a bomb was on board, and scrambled a fighter jet to escort it.

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

However, once on the ground, the plane was boarded and Protasevich and Sapega were taken into custody. The events sparked a diplomatic outcry, with EU politicians branding the move “state-sponsored piracy” and introducing new sanctions. Responding to one commenter who said the incident had given her a fear of flying, Protasevich said, “I also have aerophobia now.”

There are concerns that the former editor of Poland-based Telegram channel Nexta is being exploited for publicity purposes by Minsk. Last month, state television aired an interview in which a teary Protasevich ‘confessed’ to a range of allegations. Members of Belarus’ opposition, the leaders of which are now mostly based outside the country or in jail, slammed the footage as a “hostage” video, while other viewers noted apparent injuries to his wrists.

Also on rt.com Top Belarusian opposition figure Babariko, once tipped as successor to Lukashenko, handed 14 years in prison over fraud claims

The Belarusian government has previously been accused of extracting confessions by means of torture, with London-based human rights group Amnesty International saying physical pain and coercion had been “used by the Belarusian authorities to intimidate their opponents and discredit detainees.”

Protasevich, however, has denied claims he was mistreated while in custody. "When it comes to torture," he wrote on Twitter, "I repeat once again that it didn't happen. And as a minimum it would have been foolish to torture me when the attention of the whole world was fixed on the situation."

One of the charges facing Protasevich is that he helped organize street protests after veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko declared victory in last summer’s presidential election. The opposition, and many international observers, say the poll was marred by irregularities and rigged in Lukashenko’s favor. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the aftermath calling for a fresh vote. The authorities repeatedly deployed tear gas against marchers, however, and began a campaign of mass arrests aimed at those who oppose the government.

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