Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich has appeared in a new video after his arrest by Belarusian authorities on Sunday, following the government’s extraordinary diversion of his Ryanair flight to capital city Minsk. The video – the first since Protasevich’s arrest – comes amid mounting fears for his safety and widespread fury over the diversion of a European commercial flight.
“The attitude of the [Interior Ministry] employees towards me has been as correct as possible and in compliance with the law,” Protasevich says in the video, which was posted Monday evening to a pro-government social media channel.
“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and have confessed to organizing mass riots in the city of Minsk,” he also says. His supporters believe the video was made under duress.
Protasevich is one of dozens of Belarusian journalists and activists campaigning in exile against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. He is the founder of the Telegram channel Nexta, which helped mobilize anti-Lukashenko protests, and was charged last year with “organizing mass riots and group actions that grossly violate public order.” He is on a government wanted list for terrorism.
The 26-year-old dissident was traveling on Ryanair flight 4978 from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania on Sunday when shortly before touchdown the plane was diverted by Belarusian air traffic control to the capital Minsk over a supposed security alert.
Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary accused Belarus of “state-sponsored piracy,” telling Ireland’s Newstalk radio Monday that he believed Belarusian KGB agents were also on the flight that was carrying 26-year-old Protasevich, who is wanted in Belarus on a variety of charges.