Opposition journalist and opposition activist Roman Protasevic, who was arrested on Ryanair's infamous “state hijacking” flight to Minsk, Belarus, appeared in tears on Thursday in an interview with state television. with the investigators “and that he” respects “the authoritarian President Lukashenko, whom he has opposed for years.
This was the second appearance in two days for the 26-year-old, whose arrest on May 23 provoked the unanimous condemnation of the West. By showing him on television as frightened and remorseful, Belarus is aiming to address this criticism.
Protasevich was the founder of Nexta channel in the Telegram messaging app, which was a key information pipeline for opponents of Alexander Lukashenko, whose election for a sixth consecutive term sparked months of tumultuous protests last year.
At the end of the 90-minute interview, in which Pratasevic sat in a bright black set, he said: “I work completely and openly… and (I want) to live a normal, calm life, to have a family, children, to stop running away from something”.
Then he covered his face with his hands and burst into tears.
Lukashenko has suppressed the opposition and the independent media since taking power in the former Soviet republic in 1994. He condemned the wave of protests and about 35,000 people were arrested by police, many of whom were beaten.
“On many occasions, (Lukashenko) acted like a man with steel balls,” Protasevic said. Asked if he respected Lukashenko, he replied “for sure”.
Protashevich, who left Belarus in 2019, said he had come into contact with conspirators plotting a strong seizure of power in Belarus and that he was a link between them and opposition leader Sviatlana Tsihanovskaya, who fled to Beijing. its defeat in the elections.
Russia arrested two Belarusians in April for plotting to overthrow Mr Lukashenko.
Protashevich said that “there are probably still many dormant cells” of conspirators in Belarus.
In a video broadcast on state television on Wednesday, Protashevich said protests against Lukashenko had waned and that the opposition should wait for a better time to revive them. He also said he had been trapped by an unknown associate.
The presenter of the show on the ONT channel claimed that the Belarusian authorities did not know that Protasevich was on the Ryanair plane that was grounded.
“Now we have to give up… the road activity we had before,” Protasevic said in an interview. “Because there is simply no such activity now, and it cannot be done now,” he added.
He also said that the opposition must wait for an economic downturn to create a new challenge.
“We have to wait until the financial situation worsens; and people go out on the street for a bowl of soup, to put it raw,” he said.
The detained journalist said that he revealed his travel plans in a conversation with his associates 40 minutes before his departure from Athens for Vilnius. He claimed that the bomb threat could have been made by someone with whom he had a personal conflict, but did not explain what he meant.
Protashevich claimed that the man – whom he did not identify – had links to opposition hackers who had attacked official websites in Belarus and issued bomb threats in the past.
“The first thing I thought was that I was trapped,” he said. “When the plane was landing, I realized it was useless to panic.”
Shortly before the flight, Protasevic said, he had an argument with Franak Viahorka, Tsihanuskaya's adviser.
Asked about this, Vijorka told the Associated Press that Protasevic was now a “hostage under pressure” and insisted that they had friendly ties.
The journalist's father told the French news agency (AFP) that he was in a lot of pain watching the interview.
“I know my son very well and I think he would never say such things. “They bent him and forced him to say what they wanted,” he said.
Thursday's interview was Protasevic's third appearance on state television since his arrest.
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