Father of detained journalist Roman Protasevich: Video admission was ‘forced’

The father of a journalist detained in Belarus says his son was forced to appear in a video admitting to organising anti-government protests and that he appeared to have been beaten.

Roman Protasevich was arrested after authorities in his native Belarus forced his flight to land in the capital Minsk on Sunday.

Mr Protasevich, 26, who is based in Lithuania, appeared on a video on Monday admitting he had played a role in organising anti-government protests in Minsk last year.

His father Dzmitry Protasevich saw the video from his home in Poland, and dismissed it as the result of coercion.

He said: ”I think he was forced. It’s not his words, it’s not his intonation of speech, he is acting very reserved and you can see he is nervous.

“It is very likely that his nose is broken, because the shape of it is changed and there’s much powder on the front of it, all of the left side of his face has powder, there’s some greasy stuff on the left side.

“And it’s not his pack of cigarettes on the table – he doesn’t smoke these. So I think he was likely made to do that.

“And my son cannot admit to creating the mass disorders, because he just didn’t do any such thing. It’s unlikely he went for a deal with prosecutors. I think it’s just that he was forced to record the message.”

The younger Mr Protasevich was among more than 100 passengers on board the flight from Athens, Greece, when it was diverted from its scheduled destination of Vilnius, Lithuania, on the orders of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the crew there was a bomb threat against the plane and ordered it to land.

A Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet was scrambled as an escort in a brazen show of force by Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country with an iron fist for over a quarter of a century and has close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Mr Protasevich and his female companion Sofia Sapega, 23, were both detained before the remaining passengers continued on to Lithuania.

In the video of his “admission”, the prominent Lukashenko critic said: “Yesterday I was detained by Belarusian police at the airport.

“Now I’m in Minsk police station 1.

“I can say that I don’t have any health problems with my heart or any other organs. I’m being treated with respect and according to the law.

“Right now I continue to cooperate with police and confess to organising mass protests in Minsk.”

Britain, the European Union and the US are among the nations to have condemned what was described by Ryanair’s boss as a “state-sponsored hijacking”.

EU leaders have agreed new sanctions against Belarus, including a ban on the use of the bloc’s airspace and airports.

US President Joe Biden said: “This outrageous incident and the video Mr Protasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press.”

Mr Biden also welcomed EU calls for targeted economic sanctions and said he had asked his team to “develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organisations”.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the interception was a “shocking assault on civil aviation”.

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