Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich who was dragged off a hijacked Ryanair flight in Minsk and arrested has told people not to protest in a new video aired on state television on Wednesday.
It comes amid renewed fears the 26-year-old has been beaten and tortured after exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya said she was sure he had been mistreated.
In the footage, released on Wednesday, Protasevich appeared relaxed, smoking as spoke about the opposition with an unidentified interrogator.
‘These is simply no [protest] activity right now,’ the 26-year-old said in the broadcast.
‘We need to abandon those schemes…. there can’t be any such activity now… when I was in Vilnius, I said openly that street protests were not needed..
Protasevich added: ‘At the very least we have to wait for the economic situation to heat up.
‘We must wait for the day when people will not go to protest about new elections or against violence by the security forces, but when people will take to the streets for a bowl of soup.’
Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich who was dragged off a hijacked Ryanair flight in Minsk has told people not to protest in a new video aired on state television on Wednesday
The call comes amid renewed suspicions the 26-year-old has been beaten and tortured in prison, but the footage showed him relaxed, smoking as spoke with an interrogator
The new video comes after Protasevich last appeared on May 24, telling viewers he was in good health and was being treated well.
‘I continue cooperating with investigators and am confessing to having organised mass unrest in the city of Minsk,’ he said.
The video was widely rubbished as forced and Protasevich’s father claimed the 26-year-old had has his nose broken.
Roman Protasevich has appeared on camera for the first time since his arrested on Sunday (left), as his father said it appears his nose is broken and that he is wearing makeup – possibly to conceal bruising on the side of his face, with marks visible on his forehead (Protasevich is pictured right in 2017, for comparison)
Belarus has used video confessions to justify detentions and to attempt to dissuade the population from showing support for the opposition.
Western countries have condemned the government of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko after it scrambled a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the commercial plane to Minsk.
Ryanair flight FR4978 had been flying from Athens in Greece to Vilnius in Lithuania when it was forced to make an emergency landing in Minsk amid fake reports of an IED on board.
Ryanair flight FR4978 had been flying from Athens in Greece to Vilnius in Lithuania when it was escorted by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet to Belarus amid fake reports of an IED on board
Belarusian dog handler checks luggage from the Ryanair flight in Minsk International Airport on May 23
Authorities arrested Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, on arrival in Minsk.
Russian national Sapega is being held in a pre-trial detention centre in Minsk. A day after her arrest Belarusian state media released a video showing her confessing to having organised ‘mass riots’ in Belarus.
She also ‘admits’ to having edited the social media channel that has published personal information about Belarusian police officers.
Her parents say the confession is false, and that Sapega did not attend mass anti-government rallies in Minsk last summer, and only met her boyfriend in Lithuania in the New Year.
Belarus was rocked by strikes and weekly street protests after authorities announced that Lukashenko, who has ruled in authoritarian fashion since 1994, had secured re-election on August 9 with 80 per cent of votes.
Roman Protasevich’s girlfriend Sofia Sapega (pictured) has been in jail in Minsk since May 23. She appeared in a video and confessed to editing a social media channel that has published personal information about Belarusian police officers
Belarus was rocked by strikes and weekly street protests after authorities announced that Lukashenko, who has ruled in authoritarian fashion since 1994, had secured re-election on August 9 with 80 per cent of votes
Flight data shows that airspace over Belarus is virtually empty after Belarus scrambled a military jet and forced a plane carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner to land in Minsk
How flights are flying AROUND Belarus after Ryanair flight was hijacked as it crossed airspace
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko ordered the hijacking of a Ryanair plane as it crossed Belarusian airspace so he could arrest dissident blogger Roman Protasevich and girlfriend Sofia Sapega on May 23.
Since then, the EU has directed flights around Belarus until the matter is resolved.
The move – which takes longer – is expected to burn more fuel.
Flights paths formulated by the Financial Times show just how out of the way people-carriers are forced to go.
Amsterdam to Bangkok on May 21 vs May 24: The grey line shows the route on May 21 going through Belarus. The purple line shows the route just three days later on May 24
The EU has banned Belarusian airlines, urged EU airlines not to cross Belarusian airspace and threatened tough economic sanctions on Lukashenko’s Kremlin-backed regime.
The British government instructed all UK planes to cease flying over Belarus. Flight data shows that the airspace over the state is virtually empty following the incident.
Some countries have also imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials over a crackdown on demonstrators and a presidential election last year that the opposition said was massively rigged.
On Saturday, the EU offered to give £2.8billion to Belarus if Lukashenko steps aside and the country peacefully transitions to democracy.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the ‘development funding’ is ready once ‘the democratic choice of the Belarusian people’ is respected – after elections last year which Lukashenko claimed to have won but is widely thought to have lost.
Von der Leyen said: ‘To the people of Belarus: We see and hear your desire for change, for democracy, and for a bright future.
‘And to the Belarusian authorities: No amount of repression, brutality or coercion will bring any legitimacy to your authoritarian regime.’
But, over the weekend Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and ‘agreed a loan deal’ during a yacht tour in Sochi.
Putin is the only world leader to defend Lukashenko over the hijacking.
Russia promised Belarus a £1.06billion loan last year as part of Moscow’s efforts to stabilise its neighbour and longstanding ally. Minsk received a first installment of £352million in October.
Following talks in Sochi, the former-Soviet superpower said it will move ahead with a second £352million loan to Belarus next month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko (left) ‘agreed a loan deal’ during a yacht tour in Sochi over the weekend
ROMAN PROTASEVICH: OPPOSITION BLOGGER FORCED INTO EXILE
NEXTA, Protasevich’s outlet, was closely involved in reporting a wave of opposition protests that last year threatened to topple Lukashenko, before he was given backing by Vladimir Putin
Protasevich, 26, has long been a thorn in the side of Belarus’s hardline dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
He worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel, which is based on the Telegram messenger app and has over 1 million subscribers.
The channel, which is openly hostile to Lukashenko, played an important role in broadcasting huge opposition protests against the President last year.
Nexta also helped coordinate those same protests, which were sparked by anger over what the opposition said was a rigged presidential election.
The channel’s footage, which showed how harshly police cracked down on demonstrators, was used widely by international media at a time when the Belarusian authorities were reluctant to allow foreign media in.
In November Protasevich published a copy of an official Belarusian list of terrorists on which his name figured.
The listing said he was accused of organising mass riots while working at Nexta. He also stands accused of disrupting social order and of inciting social hatred. He regards the allegations, which could see him jailed for years, as unjustified political repression.
Protasevich fled Belarus for Poland in 2019 due to pressure from the authorities, according to Media Solidarity, a group that supports Belarusian journalists.
He moved his parents to Poland too after they were put under surveillance. He later relocated to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is also based.
Protasevich is currently editor-in-chief of a Belarusian political outlet hosted on the Telegram messaging app called ‘Belarus of the Brain’ which has around a quarter of a million subscribers.
He was flying back to Vilnius from Greece where he had spent time taking photographs of a visit there by Tsikhanouskaya. He had posted the pictures to social media before flying back.