The Belarusian dictatorship on Monday (24) published an alleged confession by blogger Roman Protassevich, 26, arrested on Sunday (23) after the Ryanair plane he was traveling in was diverted to Minsk airport, shortly before arrive in Lithuania, where he resides.
The video was released by the regime to deny a growing rumor on social media that Protassevich was hospitalized, with serious heart problems. The suspicion quickly reverberated as last week a heart attack was the cause attributed to the death of political prisoner Vitold Ashurk in a dictatorship penal colony.
One of Protassevich’s last messages before being arrested was precisely to incite Belarusians living abroad to protest, to raise awareness of international public opinion.
“I can declare that I have no health problem, neither in the heart nor in any other organ,” explains the blogger in the video released.
In a tense tone and wringing his hands, he continued: “The attitude of the employees of the Ministry of the Interior towards me was as correct as possible and in accordance with the law. I continue to cooperate with the investigation and have confessed to having organized illegal mass acts in the city of Minsk. “
On Tuesday, the blogger’s father, Dmitri Protassevich, said his son was forced to record the statement: “It’s not his words, it’s not his intonation. He’s acting very reserved, and you can see that ‘he is nervous” .
Dmitri also told European media in Poland, where he lives, that Roman appears to have had a broken nose: “His shape has changed and there is a lot of dust on his face. The whole left side of the face is covered with dust ”. He considers it impossible for the son to confess to promoting mass unrest, “because he just didn’t do any such thing.” Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, who went into exile in Lithuania after being threatened by dictatorship, also said in an interview that the blogger may have been tortured because he appeared hurt and depressed in the video. .
According to her, Protassevich and his girlfriend, Russian journalist Sofia Sapega, 23, are hostages of Lukachenko. “Not only the citizens of Belarus are in danger, but the whole world,” he said.
To capture Protassevich, the regime of dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko evoked a false bomb threat, showing dialogues between flight controllers and pilots, published on Monday (25). He also sent a Mig-29 fighter and a military helicopter to “escort” the flight to the Belarusian capital.
The blogger has caught the attention of the dictatorship since Nexta – which he helped found and edit – became one of the main news channels for covering the huge protests against Lukachenko, following the presidential elections in August 2020, deemed fraudulent.
With the internet blocked by the dictatorship, the Enforcement Channel was an indispensable tool for protesters demanding the dictator’s resignation and free and fair elections.
Belarus considers all unauthorized public meetings to be previously illegal and charged the blogger with three crimes: “committing deliberate actions aimed at inciting social enmity on the basis of professional affiliation” (up to ‘at 12 years old), “organize mass unrest” (15 years) and “organize actions which seriously violate public order” (3 years).
Like other journalists, he was added to the terrorist list by the KGB – a conviction for terrorism could theoretically lead to the death penalty. So, upon discovering on Sunday that his flight was diverted to Minsk, Protassevich appealed to the crew: “Don’t do that. They will kill me. I am a refugee ”. Belarus is the only post-Soviet and European country to maintain this sentence and executed two prisoners in 2019, according to the NGO Amnesty International.
Opposition leader Tikhanovskaia also said the flight suspension – announced on Monday by the UK and the European Union – is not a solution. “The problem stems from the terrorist regime, which violates the Constitution, international laws and falsifies elections. Massive sanctions against the regime and the support of civil society, as well as a dialogue on new elections: this is what we need, ”she said.
The hijacking of the Ryanair flight ended a week of several crackdowns against individuals and businesses Lukachenko sees as his adversaries. Twelve students and a professor from four different universities began to stand trial in criminal proceedings on charges of unlawful protest, and Belarus’ largest journalism website Tut.by was blocked.
On Tuesday, seven other activists were sentenced to up to seven years in prison in closed trials. The co-president of the Christian Democracy Pavel Sieviariniets was sentenced for “mass unrest”, while he had been in prison since June, before the great marches.
On social networks, a video has gone viral in which, after receiving the sentence, he shouts “Belarus will be free” and withdraws the refrain “we believe, we can, we will win”.
Lukachenko also uploaded new media legislation that requires the government to approve live broadcasts and prohibits journalists from covering acts deemed illegal.
The new rule also allows the regime to block any vehicle it considers “threatening national values” and prohibits any foreign action for the dissemination of information.