State television broadcasts alleged confession of blogger in Belarus; family says there was torture – 06/04/2021 – World

Belarusian blogger Roman Protassevich, 26, was featured by state broadcaster ONT in an interview which his family said was conducted under duress. European leaders like German Prime Minister Angela Merkel condemned the recording, made in prison. The journalist was arrested on May 23, when the plane he was traveling to Lithuania was intercepted and diverted to Minsk.

Images show bruises on the blogger’s wrists and he even cried at the end of the interview, which lasted an hour and a half and aired on Thursday (3). Critic of the dictator Alexander Lukashenko since the age of 16, Protassevich congratulated him on television: “I realized that a lot of things that Aleksandr Grigorievich did [Lukachenko] is criticized are just attempts to pressure him and at many times he acted like …

The journalist also “admits” to having “organized demonstrations against the regime” – an activity considered a crime in Belarus. He says he voluntarily decided to speak up “to correct his mistakes” and says that no makeup was applied to hide traces of torture. .

Last month he appeared in another video released by the dictatorship, also pleading guilty and refuting rumors he was hospitalized. According to his parents and members of the opposition, Protassevich’s face in this first video showed traces of beatings covered in dust.

The blogger is a former founder of the Nexta news channel, which was instrumental in organizing protests against the re-election – considered rigged – of dictator Alexander Lukashenko. The regime tried to demobilize them by blocking independent websites and shutting down the country’s internet, but the app channels kept protesters informed.

With Lukashenko’s growing crackdown on journalists, activists and opponents in general, Protassevich went into exile in Poland late last year and from there traveled to Lithuania. Lukashenko used a military fighter to intercept the flight he was on from Athens to Vilnius, and hijacked the plane to Belarus, where the blogger and his girlfriend, Russian Sofia Sapega, 23, were arrested .

The blogger’s statements in the dictatorship’s custody contrasted starkly with the protests he made when he was free. Protassevich said on television that Belarusian opposition members were “worms who lead a luxurious life in Lithuania and Poland and are in the pay of these countries” – the same argument used by Lukashenko in his speeches.

The alleged confession broadcast on Belarusian state television has been classified as “utterly unworthy and implausible” by the German government’s communications department, and the British Foreign Secretary has called for punishing “everyone who took part in the filming, coercion and direction of the interview ”. European analysts compared the show to the spectacular public trials of Soviet Joseph Stalin in the 1930s.

Dmitri Protassevich, the blogger’s father, told Russian independent television station TV Rain that his son’s interview was pure state propaganda. “I am sure these are the consequences of his stay in the dungeons of the detention center, of torture. At first they tried to strangle him, beat him, now the traces of the handcuffs are visible. It’s scary even to imagine, ”he said. According to him, the dictatorship did not allow his lawyer or his doctors to speak with Protassevich, which prevents him from assessing “his real condition”.

“Knowing our son as we do, it’s clear Roman isn’t saying what he’s thinking. There is an obvious internal struggle between what he is forced to say and what he does not want to say, ”said the blogger’s father. For Dmitri, the dictatorship may have blackmailed the journalist by threatening his girlfriend, who is imprisoned at the KGB (Belarusian intelligence agency).

There are more than 450 political prisoners in Belarus, according to the human rights consortium, and hundreds of documented allegations of torture. This week, one of them slit his throat with a pen during the trial after denouncing police pressure to make him confess.

While Lukashenko continues to escalate the repression against his opponents, the European Council on Friday formalized its “vehement condemnation” of the interception of the flight on May 23 and the arrest of the journalist and his companion, for which “he calls for immediate release “.

From 12:00 on Saturday, the orientation – already followed by some countries – is made official so as not to fly over Belarus. Belarusian airlines are also prohibited from crossing EU airspace or landing at its airports. The European bloc will also define a fourth wave of sanctions against companies and people linked to the dictatorship.

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