Belarusian dissident journalist and political activist, Roman Protasevich, who was arrested in Minsk, Belarus after being taken off a hijacked RyanAir flight last month, has appeared in a tearful interview on state television, praising Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko and denouncing his fellow political activists.
Mass protests erupted across Belarus in 2020 after long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in a 9 August presidential election widely condemned as rigged, and a crackdown followed.
The protests have been curbed and opposition leaders have been sent to prison or in exile.
Pratasevich, 26, was editor of the opposition Nexta channel on the Telegram messaging app until last year and had been living in exile in Lithuania .
The government put him on a list of “individuals involved in terrorist activity” last year.
And then last month after hijacking a commercial flight enroute Lithuania, Belarus government arrested him.
In a Thursday night interview, June 3, Pratasevich tearfully confessed to organising anti-government protests and praised President Alexander Lukashenko. The 26-year-old told Belarusian state TV channel ONT on Thursday that he has “pleaded guilty” to organizing large-scale “unsanctioned protests” following the country’s disputed elections last August. “I openly admit that I was one of the people who published calls to take to the streets on (August) ninth. As soon as I was presented with the documents and charged, I pleaded guilty immediately, under article 342 of the (Belarusian) Criminal Code, that’s the organization of large-scale unsanctioned protests,” Protasevich said during an interview on the show “Nothing Personal.”
Protasevich admitted to attempting to topple Alexander Lukashenko and said that he was speaking to the television channel by choice.
He said that he had criticised President Lukashenko a lot but “began to understand that he was doing the right thing and I certainly respect him”. Protasevich also breaks down before the camera, crying as he says he never wants to get involved in politics again. “I have rethought a lot of things for myself. I never want to get involved in politics anymore, in any dirty games and showdowns again. I want to hope that I can correct everything and live an ordinary peaceful life, to have a family, children, stop running away from something,” he said.
At the end of the interview, he burst into tears and said he hoped one day to marry and have children.
Protasevich’s family say the interview was conducted under duress, his father speaking to AFP news agency said that it pained him to watch the interview.
Really uncomfortable to watch this. A battered Roman Protasevich appears on Belarusian state TV to praise autocrat Aleksandr Lukashenko, 10 days after the dissident blogger was taken off the Ryanair flight that was forced to land in Minsk. A volte-face that’s very hard to believe pic.twitter.com/escJriEtfX
— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) June 3, 2021
“I know my son very well and I believe that he would never say such things. They broke him and forced him to say what was needed,” he said.
Thursday’s interview was Mr Protasevich’s third appearance on state television since he was detained.
In one interview, he said there was no use in the opposition calling for further street protests.
Protasevich faces serious charges. In Belarus, the charge of causing mass unrest can be punished by up to 15 years in jail but terror offences carry higher sentences and as he was taken off the plane, passengers quoted him saying “I’ll get the death penalty here”.
By Jide N.