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Belarus: Detained dissident Roman Protasevich appears in video as fury mounts

“The attitude of the [Interior Ministry] employees towards me has been as correct as possible and in compliance with the law,” Protasevich says in the video, which was posted Monday evening to a pro-government social media channel.

“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and have confessed to organizing mass riots in the city of Minsk,” he also says. His supporters believe the video was made under duress.

The 26-year-old dissident was traveling on Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania on Sunday when shortly before touchdown the plane was diverted by Belarusian air traffic control to the capital Minsk over a supposed security alert.

Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary accused Belarus of “state-sponsored piracy,” telling Ireland’s Newstalk radio Monday that he believed Belarusian KGB agents were also on the flight that was carrying 26-year-old Protasevich, who is wanted in Belarus on a variety of charges.

Roman Protasevich: The young dissident who Belarus diverted a Ryanair flight to arrest

Similarly, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said that secret service agents may have been on the plane, telling national broadcaster RTÉ that the agents were “clearly linked to the Belarusian regime.”

“When the plane landed, either five or six people didn’t reboard the plane before it took off again, but only one or two people were actually arrested, so that certainly would suggest that a number of the other people who left the plane were secret service,” he added.

Belarus borders three European Union member states — Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — and EU leaders were discussing further action against Lukashenko’s government on Monday, with global leaders calling on airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace, their citizens to leave the country and for the opposition activist’s release.

Fears of torture, abuse

As the world turns its focus to Belarus, Protasevich’s supporters are calling foul on Lukashenko’s tactics.

Critics of the Belarusian strongman, including exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said that the video released on Monday appeared to be filmed under duress.

“This is how Roman looks under physical and moral pressure,” she tweeted shortly after the statement surfaced. CNN cannot independently verify those claims but activists and protesters detained in recent months have reported suffering serious abuses and being forced to make confessions.

Belarus condemned for 'hijacking' Ryanair plane to detain journalist

The video also comes as Protasevich’s father, Dmitry Protasevich, told CNN on Monday that he fears his son faces torture and physical abuse at the hands of Belarusian authorities.

“We are very worried as we expect that tortures and physical abuse can be applied to our son, although we hope that won’t happen. But knowing the KGB methods of work, they even resort to tortures and abuse,” he said, adding: “They have been after Roman for a long time.”

Dmitry Protasevich, who was stripped of his military title of Lieutenant Colonel by Lukashenko, described the Belarusian leader as a “vengeful person” who is scared of public exposure to the actions of his government and “scared of people talking openly about what is happening” in the country.

Protasevich’s parents left Belarus in August 2020 after the presidential elections, fearing they would be pursued due to their son’s activism.

“We understood very well that the authorities will stop at nothing,” Dmitry said. “We feared that we, as Roman’s parents, could become hostages and through us, they could put pressure on him.”

Protasevich’s father said he considers his son to be a “hero,” saying that he is an example to young people to aspire to work for change and democracy.”

Eyewitness accounts

The Ryanair plane parked at Minsk International Airport on May 23.

When the Ryanair pilot announced that the plane would be diverting to nearby Minsk on Sunday, Protasevich reacted immediately, standing up from his seat, reaching into the overhead locker, pulling a laptop computer from his hand luggage and passing it to a female companion along with his mobile phone, witnesses told Reuters.

“When it was announced they were going to land in Minsk, Roman stood up,…

Read More: Belarus: Detained dissident Roman Protasevich appears in video as fury mounts

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