Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich said in interrogation, which aired on state television on Wednesday, that there was no point in the country’s political opposition calling for street protests against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.
Protasevich was arrested along with his girlfriend last month after the May 23 Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania, where the couple was on board, had to land in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
In his second appearance since the incident, Protasevich appeared relaxed and smoked while talking to an unknown interlocutor.
‘There is simply no [protest] activity at the moment, ”the 26-year-old said in the broadcast, repeating the Belarussian allegation that the plane had to be diverted after a Hamas bomb threat. The Palestinian group has denied any involvement.
“Now we have to give up the street activity we used to have, the formats in which we worked. “Because there is simply no such activity now, and there can be no case now,” Protasevich said.
“When I was in Vilnius, I openly said that street protests were not necessary. At the very least, we should wait until the economic situation heats up for people to take to the streets for a bowl of soup. ”
The Belorussian opposition, which last week said it was preparing to stage a new phase of active anti-government demonstrations after earlier rallies last year, did not immediately comment on the broadcast..
The opposition had earlier suggested that previous confessions of Protasevich and his girlfriend, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, be forced last month. Both are now facing criminal charges.
Protasevich claims ‘drafted’
The video of Protasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, came after a first appearance on state television last week in which he said he had helped orchestrate massive anti-government protests that erupted following Lukashenko who ‘ won a sixth term in office during a dispute. Election in August.
The protests erupted during the winter amid heavy repression by Belarusian authorities, who arrested tens of thousands of people.
Protasevich’s parents, who live in Poland, said the confession was apparently forced and that the make-up appeared to cover bruises on his face.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled leader of the Belarusian opposition, said on Monday she believed Protasevich had been beaten and tortured in prison.
In his latest appearance, Protasevich said he was set up in front of an unknown accomplice before his arrest.
He described how heavily armed special forces were waiting as the plane drove to a parking lot taxi.
“It was a dedicated SWAT unit – uniforms, flakes and weapons,” Protasevich said.
According to the journalist, he announced his travel plans 40 minutes before his departure in a conversation with co-workers. He claims the bomb threat could have been issued by someone with whom he had a personal conflict but did not elaborate.
Protasevich claims that the person – whom he did not identify – had links to opposition-minded hackers who had attacked official Belarusian websites in the past and issued bomb threats.
“The first thing I thought was that I was set,” he said. “When the plane was on a runway, I realized it was useless to panic.”
Belarussian authorities claimed they were unaware that Protasevich was on board the May 23 flight.
Wednesday’s broadcast appears to support the rally.
The presenter of the broadcast on the ONT channel claims that officials did not know Protasevich was a passenger in the plane when they ordered to land in the country’s capital.
Western countries have condemned Lukashenko’s government over the forced landing of the plane, and many European Union countries have imposed Belarian airline Belavia air restrictions.
The EU and the United States have also imposed retaliatory sanctions.
But Lukashenko did defend the flight diversion as a legitimate response to the bomb threat and promised to respond harshly to the sanctions.
On Thursday, Belarus told the United States that it was reducing the number of diplomats and other personnel allowed on the US diplomatic mission to Minsk in response to Washington’s measures.
In a statement on its website, the ministry said it was also tightening visa procedures for U.S. citizens working on the mission.