Publicado: 04/06/2021

Belarus opposition, European powers condemn jailed activist interview

Belarus opposition, European powers condemn jailed activist interview

Warsaw (AFP) -

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Friday dismissed an interview shown on state television in Belarus with a journalist arrested after his plane was forced to land in Minsk.

Germany also slammed the interview with Roman Protasevich as a 'disgrace', while British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was 'clearly under duress'.

Speaking during a visit to Warsaw, Tikhanovskaya said: 'All such videos are shot under pressure.'

'We should not believe any of the words of these people, including Roman Protasevich,' said Tikhanovskaya, who ran against Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko in an election last year.

'They are done after torture,' she said, adding: 'The task of political prisoners is to survive'.

Protasevich was arrested on May 23 along with his girlfriend Sofia Sapega when their Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted, intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet and made to land.

The interview with Protasevich, the co-founder and former editor of opposition Telegram channel Nexta which galvanised anti-government demonstrations, was broadcast on Thursday.

Looking uncomfortable in the video, Protasevich said he had called for protests last year and praised Lukashenko.

His supporters said he appeared to have marks on his wrists.

At the end of the 1.5-hour interview broadcast by Belarus state-run channel ONT Thursday evening, Protasevich began crying and covered his face with his hands.

The 26-year-old's father, Dmitry Protasevich, told AFP on Thursday that the video was the result of 'abuse, torture and threats.'

'I know my son very well and I believe that he would never say such things,' he told AFP.

'They broke him and forced him to say what was needed,' he said, adding it pained him to watch the interview.

'I am very worried.'

Belarusian authorities accuse Protasevich of organising mass riots, a charge that could land him in prison for 15 years.

- 'Contempt for democracy' -

Raab called the interview with Protasevich 'disturbing'.

'Those involved in the filming, coercion and direction of the interview must be held accountable,' he said on Twitter.

In Germany, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that Protasevich's supposed confession was 'absolutely disgraceful and implausible'.

He accused Belarusian authorities of 'mentally and possibly physically' pressuring him to speak.

'That is a disgrace for the broadcaster showing (the interview) and for the Belarusian leadership which is once again showing its contempt for democracy and, it must be said, for humanity,' Seibert said.

Protasevich and Sapega are accused of helping to coordinate historic demonstrations that broke out following Lukashenko's disputed re-election last August.

In response to the protests, Belarus authorities waged a brutal crackdown on the opposition and civil society, detaining and imprisoning thousands of demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile.

Several people died in the unrest.

- 'Political interference' -

Immediately after their arrest, both Protasevich and Sapega appeared in 'confession' videos that their supporters said were also recorded under duress and are a common tactic of the regime to pressure critics.

Protasevich's parents said at the time their son looked like he had been beaten in the video.

In response to the arrests, the European Union banned Belarusian state carrier Belavia from operating flights to airports in the bloc and discouraged EU-based airlines from flying over the ex-Soviet country.

But the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Friday called for the EU to review its recommendation for airlines to avoid flying over Belarus, saying that aviation 'must not suffer from political interference'.

'Two wrongs do not make a right. Politics should never interfere with the safe operation of aircraft and politicians should never use aviation safety as a cover to pursue political or diplomatic agendas,' IATA chief Willie Walsh said in a statement.

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