Detained Belarus dissident Roman Protasevich breaks down in state TV interview
Footage of detained journalist Roman Protasevich that aired on Belarusian state television Thursday has raised renewed concerns that he is being coerced to take part in political propaganda under duress. Last month, a Ryanair jet with Protasevich on board was forced to land in Belarus so that authorities could arrest the 26-year-old dissident journalist. Amid international outrage, Protasevich appeared in a short video in which he appeared to confess to organizing “mass riots” — generating skepticism on the part of family members and human rights groups, who said that his demeanor and bruised face made clear that he had been coerced.
In the new video, which was staged like a typical television studio interview, Protasevich appears to have wounds on his wrists from his handcuffs, and at one point he breaks down in tears.
“I can only say that I have reconsidered many things,” he tells the interviewer. “I never want to get involved in politics again, nor I want to get involved in these dirty tricks. I want to hope that I can fix it all and live a calm, ordinary life, have a family, children, stop running away from something.”
Protasevich declares respect for Belarus’s strongman president, Alexander Lukashenko, and his refusal to be swayed by public pressure. He says that he “published calls to take to the streets” when pro-democracy protests sprung up in Belarus last year, and he has pleaded guilty to organizing mass demonstrations, a charge that can carry a 15-year sentence.
“I realized that these things that I posted, among other things, caused uncontrollable riots on the streets and Minsk was in chaos for three days,” Protasevich says in the state television broadcast.
Protasevich’s father, Dzmitry, told the AFP that the interview was painful to watch because his son was clearly repeating statements that he does not believe.
“They broke him and forced him to say what was needed,” Dzmitry Protasevich said.
Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told reporters Friday that such videos are routinely filmed after torture and should not be believed.
“The task of political prisoners is to survive,” she said, according to the AFP.
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth tweeted that the video “should be Exhibit A in a prosecution for torture and ill treatment under President Lukashenko.”
European nations condemned the broadcast Friday. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that Protasevich was “clearly under duress” and called the video “disturbing,” while German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said the supposed confession was “absolutely disgraceful and implausible.”
Protasevich, who helped found a Telegram channel that was used to share information about pro-democracy protests last August, is believed to be in custody in a detention center in Minsk.
His partner, Russia activist Sofia Sapega, was arrested along with him and appeared in a video last month where she confessed to operating a Telegram channel that shared law enforcement officers’ personal information.
That video was also widely believed to be coerced.
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