Detained Belarusian dissident says he was set up by an associate

Support us and go ad-free

A dissident journalist arrested when Belarus diverted his flight has said in a video from prison that he was set up by an unidentified associate. The footage of Roman Protasevich was part of an hour-long documentary aired late on Wednesday by the state-controlled ONT channel.

In the film, the 26-year-old is also shown saying that protests against Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko are now pointless amid a tough crackdown, and suggesting the opposition wait for a more opportune moment. The film claimed Belarusian authorities were unaware Protasevich was on board the Ryanair jet en route from Athens to Vilnius when flight controllers diverted it to Minsk on May 23 citing a bomb threat.

Belarus Dissident Journalist
The Ryanair jet on the tarmac at Minsk (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

The EU response

No bomb was found after the landing, but Protasevich was arrested along with his Russian girlfriend. The flight’s diversion outraged the European Union, which responded by barring the Belarusian flag carrier from its skies, told European airlines to skirt Belarus and drafted new sanctions against key sectors of the Belarusian economy.

Lukashenko’s rule

Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 9.3 million for more than a quarter of a century, has accused the West of trying to “strangle” his country with sanctions.

Belarus has been rocked by months of protests fuelled by his re-election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that was widely seen as rigged. Lukashenko has only increased the crackdown, and more than 35,000 people have been arrested since the protests began, with thousands beaten.

Read on...

Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko (Sergei Shelega/BelTA Pool Photo/AP)

“Bloody rebellion”

Protasevich, who left Belarus in 2019, has become a leading critic of Lukashenko. He ran a popular channel on the Telegram messaging app that played a key role in organising the huge anti-government protests and was charged with inciting mass disturbances — accusations that carry a 15-year prison sentence.

Lukashenko last week accused him of fomenting a “bloody rebellion” and defended the flight diversion as a legitimate response to a bomb threat. The ONT documentary appeared to be intended to back that contention by claiming Belarusian authorities were unaware Protasevich was on the plane when they diverted it.

Set up?

In the video, the journalist alleged that the bomb threat could have been issued by someone with whom he had a personal conflict. He said the perceived ill-wisher – who he did not name – had links with opposition-minded hackers who have attacked Belarusian official websites and issued bomb threats in the past.

Protasevich said:

When the plane was on a landing path, I realised that it’s useless to panic,

Once the plane taxied to a parking spot, he described seeing heavily armed special forces waiting. It was a dedicated Swat unit — uniforms, flak jackets and weapons,

A day after his arrest, Protasevich appeared in a video from detention that was broadcast on Belarusian state TV. Speaking rapidly and in a monotone, he said he was confessing to staging mass disturbances. His parents, who now live in Poland, said the confession seemed to be coerced.

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. I agree with Tonygg.

      An Edward Snowden or Julian Assange this guy is not, and by now we haven’t we ALL seen enough ‘Colour revolutions’ to know they are merely a front for western neocon “centrists” to proclaim a “Liberal Interventionism” cause?

      Lukashenko may be a “dictator”, but we are also living in a slightly more obscured dictatorship too, we have no moral high ground.

      And needless to point out – Or it SHOULD be! – the Western Elites don’t give a shit about “Human rights” unless there is the potential to steal vast amounts of wealth.

      Do you trust ‘our’ political and media ‘leaders’? Then why would you trust them to impose anything good over Belarus?

    2. The Russian, sorry, “Belorussian regime” comments would be believable if Protasevich hadn’t been accompanied by what he claimed were four Belarusian GRU agents who tailed the journalist onto the Ryanair flight from Athens and then, once over Belarussian airspace, the four started to loudly argue with the cabin crew over a bomb threat before the plane was forced to divert & land in Minsk by a MiG-29 fighter jet anyway!
      Strangely, “four other passengers also got off at Minsk and never rejoined the flight”, Rynair boss said, perhaps the four were Russian tourists who wanted to visit the The Holy Spirit Cathedral in Minsk , got on the wrong flight at Athens but really wanted to go to Minsk after-all and not visit the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Vilnius? 😉
      Maybe we will never know?

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.