Belarusian government forced journalist's confession, family says

Belarusian government forced journalist's confession, family says
© Getty Images

Family members of detained journalist Roman Protasevich say he was forced to confess that he organized anti-government protests in a Thursday interview where he also praised Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the BBC reported.

"I know my son very well, and I believe that he would never say such things,” Dmitry Protasevich told the BBC.

“They broke him and forced him to say what was needed. No one should believe these words because they were beaten out, through abuse and torture of my son," he added.

ADVERTISEMENT

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said Protasevich’s remarks on state TV should be dismissed on account of the detainment conditions in Belarus.

"You should understand in what conditions these people are, and they are for sure being tortured and violated. And we shouldn't believe any of the words of these people, including Roman Protasevich,” Tikhanovskaya said.

Protasevich is co-founder and former editor of The NEXTA Telegram channel, used by Lukashenko’s opponents to manage demonstrations and share information.

The 26-year-old journalist was detained after his flight on a commercial airline from Greece to Lithuania was forced by a Belarusian fighter jet to land in the capital of Minsk on May 23.

The U.S. and several Western countries have condemned Protasevich’s detention, called for his release and describing the forced grounding of the commercial airliner as outrageous and illegal.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense: Biden administration expands Afghan refugee program | Culture war comes for female draft registration | US launches third Somalia strike in recent weeks US Embassy accuses Taliban of possible war crimes What's worse for the price of oil — a belligerent Iran or a resurgent COVID? MORE in a statement also called for Protasevich’s release and vowed the U.S. and its allies would respond.

ADVERTISEMENT

In Thursday’s interview on state TV, Protasevich admitted he tried to unseat Lukashenko, that he freely agreed to the interview and that despite critiquing the Belarusian president in the past he has now begun “to understand that Lukashenko was doing the right thing and I certainly respect him.”

The BBC reported that there were marks on Protasevich’s wrists, and human rights and opposition organizers said he was likely tortured.

This was the second time since being detained that Protasevich made public statements that were coerced, according to his father and others.

On May 24, in a video that appeared on several channels of the messaging app Telegram, Protasevich acknowledged he helped organize mass disturbances in Minsk.

On May 30, Belarus also detained Aliaksei Shota, chief editor of the popular news site Hrodna.life. Belarusian authorities said Shota was under investigation on suspicion of extremism.

Updated at 10:50 a.m.