Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich appears on state television as critics denounce his detention as “hostage-taking”

The 26-year-old told Belarusian state broadcaster ONT on Thursday that he had “pleaded guilty” to staging large-scale “unauthorized protests” following the country’s contested elections last August.

“I openly admit that I was one of the people who posted calls to take to the streets on (August) nine. As soon as the documents were presented to me and charged, I immediately pleaded guilty, under Article 342 of the (Belarusian) Criminal Code, it is the organization of large-scale unauthorized demonstrations, “Protasevich said in an interview with the program” Nothing Personal “.

Protasevich was arrested on May 23 after his Ryanair flight was grounded in Minsk, sparking outrage from Western governments. Critics of the government of longtime President Alexander Lukashenko believe that Protasevich’s media appearances during his state detention were under duress.

Protasevich is a “hostage of the regime”, tweeted Thursday Franak Viačorka, adviser to the Belarusian opposition candidate in exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.

“It’s painful to see Raman Pratasevich’s ‘confession’. His parents think he was tortured. It’s not Raman that I know. This man on Goebbels TV is the regime’s hostage, and we must do everything possible to free him and the other 460 political prisoners, ”Viačorka wrote, using the Belarusian spelling of his name.

Since his arrest, Protasevich has appeared several times in state-controlled or pro-government media. In a video posted to a pro-government social media channel, he says he “confessed” to “organizing mass riots” in Minsk – an admission his family and supporters believe was forced.

Protasevich was also featured in an ONT “investigative documentary” into the Ryanair flight incident earlier this week. The documentary repeats a claim by Belarusian authorities that they did not know Protasevich was on board the plane when they hijacked it.

Protasevich is well known as a fierce critic of the Lukashenko government. As a teenager, he participated in protests against the regime and was subsequently excluded from the journalism program of Belarusian State University. He was always on the front line of the protests, according to his fellow activists.

NEXTA, the Telegram channel Protasevich co-founded in 2015, has gained popularity by providing information on the government’s violent crackdown on election-related protests. After the arrest or exile of most of the activists, the channel became a reliable source of verified information allowing protesters to coordinate their movements.

The conciliatory tone of Protasevich’s interview on Thursday may ring all the more odd to other activists.

At one point, Protasevich tells the interviewer that he respects the president’s refusal to bow to public criticism. “I realized that much of the criticism of Alexander Grigorievich (Lukashenko) was an attempt to pressure him. And in many ways he acted like a man with steel balls despite the pressure,” did he declare.

Protasevich also collapses on camera, crying as he says he never wants to get involved in politics again.

“I have rethought a lot of things on my own. I never want to get involved in politics, dirty games and confrontations ever again. I want to hope that I can fix everything and live an ordinary peaceful life, have a family, children, stop running from something, ”he said.

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