Belarus journalist arrested by the Belarusian authorities after a plane was ‘hijacked’ has emerged on state TV to ‘confess’ to organizing mass protests – but his supporters claim he is being tortured.
Roman Protasevich, 26, and girlfriend Sophia Sapega, 23, were detained on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius after it was forced to divert to Minsk following a purported ‘bomb scare’ on Sunday.
The young man, who faces charges that carry the death penalty, denied reports he had been hospitalized with a heart condition in new footage.
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Mr Protasevich appeared to have a dark mark on his forehead, and was wearing a black hoodie as he sat behind a table with a pack of cigarettes next to him.
His dad Dzmitry Protasevich claims he was forced to record the video and has accused authorities of beating his son.
Speaking to Sky News, he said:
The father added that his son ‘cannot admit to creating the mass disorders, because he just didn’t do any such thing’.
Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya also says the ‘admission’ was produced under ‘physical and moral pressure’.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said both the video, which was ‘made under duress’, and the forced flight diversion were ‘shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press’.
It comes after the UK Government ordered the Civil Aviation Authority to request airlines avoid Belarusian air space ‘to keep passengers safe’.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also suspended the operating permit for Belavia, the country’s state-owned airline.
The European Union joined the UK in new sanctions against Belarus last night with the 27 members states agreeing to ban Belarusian airlines from EU airspace and airports, and recommending EU airlines do not fly to the country.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it’s ‘very difficult to believe’ Mr Protasevich’s arrest could have taken place ‘without at least the acquiescence of the authorities in Moscow’.
Asked why he believed this, he replied:
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has named the incident a ‘state-sponsored hijacking’ and claims agents from Russia’s KGB were on board the flight.