Belarus authorities have released a nearly hour long interview with Roman Protasevich, the opposition journalist who they arrested after “hijacking” a plane he was on and forcing it to land in Minsk, showing him confessing to organizing anti-government protests and praising long-standing president Alexander Lukashenko.
Protasevich’s family and allies say he had been coerced into making the confession.
With bruises visible on his wrists, the 26-year-old said he had voluntarily agreed to do the interview and no makeup had been applied to his face to hide traces of torture.
He confessed to organizing unauthorized mass rallies, saying he had criticized Lukashenko a lot but has realized Lukashenko was doing the right thing and acting as “a man with balls of steel.”
He proceeded to criticize the Belarus opposition movement, saying it was being funded by European governments and named his fellow opposition organizers as accomplices.
At the end, he broke down in tears, saying he hoped to live a quiet life, marry and have children.
“I know my son very well and I believe that he would never say such things. They broke him and forced him to say what was needed,” Protasevich’s father told AFP.
Western countries, Belarus opposition leaders and human rights organizations all condemned the interview, saying Protasevich had been tortured.
Human Rights Watch called it “Exhibit A in a prosecution for torture and ill treatment under President Lukashenko.”
Protasevich, a co-founder of the popular opposition NEXTA Telegram channel, was arrested on Sunday May 23, after Lukashenko ordered a fighter jet to intercept the Ryanair plane he was traveling on and force it to land in the Belarusian capital, where Protasevich and his girlfriend were then arrested by authorities.
The EU has banned Belarusian airlines from flying over EU countries and several EU airlines have stopped flying over Belarus.
Mass protests erupted in Belarus in August last year after Lukashenko claimed victory in a contested election many say was rigged.
Protesters were met by a crackdown, with more than 33,000 people detained, and more than 1,800 criminal cases opened against activists.