A disgruntled journalist was arrested after Belarus traces his flight from prison to a video said to have been set up by an unidentified aide.
The footage of Raman Pratsevich was part of an hour-long TV program aired by the state-controlled ONT channel late on Wednesday. In the film, 26-year-old Pratsevich is also shown saying that the protests against the authoritarian president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko Now in vain amid strong action and suggesting that the opposition wait for a more opportune moment.
The film claimed that Belarusian officials were unaware that Pratsevich was on board. Ryanair by jet en route Athens As for Vilnius, flight controllers, citing a bomb threat, diverted it to Minsk on 23 May.
No bombs were found after the landing, but Pratsevich was arrested along with his Russian girlfriend. Annoyed by flight diversion European Union which responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from its skies, asking European carriers to avoid Belarus and drafting new dire sanctions against key sectors of the Belarusian economy.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 9.3 million with an iron fist for more than a quarter-century, has accused the West of attempting to “strange” his country with sanctions.
Belarus has been rocked by months of protests over being re-elected to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that was widely seen as rigged. Lukashenko has only escalated the crackdown, and more than 35,000 people have been arrested since the protests began, with thousands being beaten up.
Pratsevich, who left Belarus in 2019, has become Lukashenko’s worst enemy. He ran a widely popular channel on the Telegram messaging app that was instrumental in helping organize huge anti-government protests and was accused of inciting mass disturbances – charges that carry a 15-year prison sentence.
Lukashenko last week accused Pratsevich of “bloody rebellion”.
Speaking at the ONT film, Pratsevich acknowledged that the protests had intensified and argued that the opposition should wait until economic problems fuel widespread public discontent.
“We need to wait until the economic situation worsens … and people take to the street for mugs of soup, to put it bluntly,” he said.
Lukashenko has defended the Ryanair flight diversion as a valid response to the bomb threat. The ONT program was designed to back the controversy that claimed Belarusian officials were unaware that Pratsevich was on the plane when they changed it.
In the video, the journalist said that he gave a notice about his travel plans on conversations with colleagues 40 minutes before his departure and alleged that the bomb threat could have been issued by someone with whom he had a personal conflict. . He alleged that the alleged ill-wisher – whom he did not name – had links with opposition-minded hackers who have attacked Belarusian official websites and issued bomb threats in the past.
“The first thing I thought was set me up,” said Pratasevich.
Pratsevich’s remarks in the program did not say what kind of personal conflict the journalist had with the alleged person.
“While the plane was on a landing path, I realized it was useless to panic,” Pratsevich said. Once the plane taxied to the parking lot, it saw heavily armed special forces waiting.
“It was a dedicated SWAT unit – uniforms, flak jackets and weapons,” he said.
A day after his arrest, Pratsevich appeared already from custody in a video that was broadcast on Belarusian state TV. Speaking swiftly and in one voice, he said he was admitting to staging mass unrest. Her parents, who now live in Poland, said the confession seemed coercive.
In the film ONT, Pratsevich states that he tried to stay away from his girlfriend after landing, hoping that the authorities would not arrest her. Sofia Sapega did not appear on the new TV show, but was featured in a video from prison last week, confessing to running a channel that disclosed personal data about Belarus security officials.
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