— Internet News

Detained Belarusian journalist appears in prison video, saying opposition protests are pointless

A dissident journalist arrested when Belarus diverted his flight has said in a video from prison that an unidentified associate has set him up. The footage of Roman Pratasevich was part of an hour-long documentary aired late on Wednesday by the state-controlled ONT channel.

 

In the film, Mr. Pratasevich, 26, also shows that protests against Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko are now pointless amid a brutal crackdown and suggest that the opposition waits for a more opportune moment. The film claimed that the Belarusian authorities were unaware that Mr. Pratasevich was on board the Ryanair jet en route from Athens to Vilnius when flight controllers diverted it to Minsk on 23 May, citing an alleged bomb threat.

No bomb was found after the landing, but Mr. Pratasevich was arrested along with his Russian girlfriend.

The flight’s diversion outraged the European Union, which responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from its skies, told European carriers to skirt Belarus, and drafted new bruising sanctions against key sectors of the Belarusian economy. Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 9.3 million with an iron fist for over a quarter-century, has accused the West of trying to “strangle” his country with sanctions.

Detained Belarusian

Belarus has been rocked by months of protests fueled by his re-election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote widely seen as rigged. Mr. Lukashenko has only increased the crackdown, and more than 35,000 people have been arrested since the protests began, with thousands beaten.

Mr. Pratasevich, who left Belarus in 2019, has become a top foe for Mr. Lukashenko. He ran a widely popular channel on the Telegram messaging app that played a crucial role in helping organize the enormous anti-government protests and was charged with inciting mass disturbances – accusations that carry a 15-year prison sentence.

Mr. Lukashenko last week accused Mr. Pratasevich of fomenting a “bloody rebellion” and defended the Ryanair flight diversion as a legitimate response to the alleged bomb threat.

The ONT documentary appeared intended to back that contention by claiming that the Belarusian authorities were unaware that Mr. Pratasevich was on the plane when they diverted it.

The video alleged that the bomb threat could have been issued by someone with whom he had a personal conflict. He charged that the perceived ill-wisher he didn’t name had links with opposition-minded hackers who have attacked Belarusian official websites and issued bomb threats.

“When the plane was on a landing path, I realized it’s useless to panic,” Mr. Pratasevich said. Once the plane taxied to a parking spot, he saw heavily armed special forces waiting.

It was a dedicated SWAT unit – uniforms, flak jackets, and weapons,” he said.

A day after his arrest, Mr. Pratasevich already appeared in a video from detention broadcast on Belarusian state TV. Speaking rapidly and in a monotone, he confessed to staging mass disturbances. His parents, who now live in Poland, said the confession seemed coerced.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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