Belarus authorities have released a video of Roman Protasevich, the opposition journalist who was arrested after they intercepted a passenger plane he was on and forced it to land in Minsk, which appears to have been filmed under duress.
On Sunday May 23, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko ordered a fighter jet to intercept the Ryanair plane that Protasevich was traveling on from Greece to Lithuania and force it to land in the Belarusian capital, where Protasevich was then arrested by authorities.
Belarus authorities had told the pilots to diverted the flight as there was “a potential security threat on board,” according to Ryanair. No bomb was found.
The incident prompted widespread international outrage, with Western countries calling it a hijacking by the Belarus government.
European Union countries met on Monday regarding the incident, calling for EU airlines not to fly over the country and suspend operating permits for Belarus’ national carrier Belavia.
The bloc also promised to adopt further economic sanctions on the country.
Several European airlines have stopped flying over Belarus.
The 26 year old is a co-founder of the popular opposition NEXTA Telegram channel and had been living in exile in Lithuania since 2019.
He has been accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder in Belarus and faces a possible prison sentence of more than 12 years, according to the BBC.
On Tuesday, a pro-government social media channel posted a video of Protasevich saying he was in good health and acknowledging that he took part in organizing mass protests in the country last year.
“Police officers treat me properly and according to the law,” Protasevich said in the video. “Also, I now continue to cooperate with the investigation and give a confession on organizing mass protests in Minsk.”
Protasevich’s father said he believes his son was forced to admit guilt and appeared to have a broken nose.
“It’s likely his nose is broken, because the shape of it has changed and there’s a lot of powder on it. All of the left side of his face has powder,” Dzmitry Protasevich told Reuters. “It’s not his words, it’s not his intonation of speech. He is acting very reserved and you can see he is nervous.”
“My son cannot admit to creating the mass disorders, because he just didn’t do any such thing,” he added.
“This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure. I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners,” Sviatlana Thiskanouskaya, an opposition leader wrote on Twitter.
Protasevich had been flying back from attending an economic conference in Greece and had noticed a bald man following him at Athens airport, according to messages he sent to the Telegram channel.
Upon hearing of the diversion, Protasevich turned to the fellow passengers “and said he was facing the death penalty,” a passenger on the flight told AFP.
“He was not screaming, but it was clear that he was very much afraid,” another passenger told AFP. “It looked like if the window had been open, he would have jumped out of it.”
“We sat for an hour after the landing. Then they started releasing passengers and took [Protasevich and his girlfriend]. We did not see them again,” the passengers said.
After Protasevich’s arrest, his colleagues said they immediately revoked his access to the Telegram channel to ensure authorities would not be able to access the data.
The plane took off again from Minsk after about seven hours on the ground and landed at Vilnius 35 minutes later.
“This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking… state-sponsored piracy,” Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary told an Irish radio station on Monday, adding that he believes there were KGB agents on board the flights who also offboarded at Minsk.
“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,” Ireland’s foreign minister said, according to CNN.
Lukashenko and dozens of Belarusian officials are already under EU sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, that were imposed due to their repression of opponents, according to the BBC.
Since Lukashenko’s re-election last August, mass protests have taken place in Belarus demanding his resignation.
Riot police have responded harshly by beating and detaining protesters, who say the contested election was rigged in order to extend Lukashenko’s rule since 1994.
Since then, more than 33,000 people have been detained, and more than 1,800 criminal cases were opened against activists, according to human rights group Viasna.