Detained Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich 'forced' to give tearful TV confession

In this handout photo released by ONT channel on Wednesday, June 2, 2021, dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich speaks in a video from a detention center in Minsk, Belarus. The footage of Raman Pratasevich was part of an hour-long TV program aired late Wednesday by the state-controlled ONT channel. In the film, the 26-year-old Pratasevich is also shown saying that protests against Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko are now pointless amid a tough crackdown and suggesting that the opposition wait for a more opportune moment. (ONT channel VIA AP)
Dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich speaks in a video from a detention center in Minsk, Belarus Credit: ONT channel via AP

Dissident Belarusian journalist and opposition activist Roman Protasevich wept as he said he did attempt to topple President Alexander Lukashenko in a TV appearance his family said he was forced to make.

A cowed Mr Protasevich, who was arrested after his flight was diverted to Minsk last month, declared he respects the authoritarian president he opposed for years during the tearful interview on state television.

In his third appearance, and his second in two days, since his Ryanair plane was forced to land in Belarus by the authorities on May 23, Mr Protasevich admitted to plotting to overthrow Mr Lukashenko by organising "riots".

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has been warned there will be ‘consequences’ following the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich Credit: Sergei Sheleg/BelTA Pool Photo via AP

Mr Protasevich's family the interview was given under duress.

"I know my son very well and I believe that he would never say such things. They broke him and forced him to say what was needed," the 26-year-old's father told AFP news agency.

"It's painful to see 'confessions' of Raman Pratasevich (sic). His parents believe he was tortured. This is not Raman I know," Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said on social media on Thursday, using a different spelling of Mr Protasevich's name.

He "is the hostage of the regime, and we must make all possible to release him and the other 460 political prisoners," he wrote on Twitter.

Mr Protasevich co-founded the online news service called Nexta, based in Poland, which Belarus last year declared was extremist after it was used to help organise major protests against Mr Lukashenko.

Mr Lukashenko's election to a sixth term last year set off months of protests, many of them attracting 100,000 people or more.

Security use a dog to check the luggage of passengers on the Ryanair jet that carried Roman Protasevich. Credit: ONLINER.BY via AP

Mr Protasevich and his girlfriend were arrested after his flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was diverted following an alleged bomb threat. Western countries say the move amounted to air piracy by Belarus.

Previously, Belarus authorities have said Mr Protasevich is an extremist who has facilitated violence. They maintain aired television confessions by members of the opposition were made voluntarily.

Mr Protasevich said he was giving the interview of his own volition.

ONT channel VIA AP Credit: he footage of Raman Pratasevich was part of an hour-long TV programme aired late Wednesday by the state-controlled ONT channel.

"I'm almost certain they will condemn me publicly, and rallies in support of me will come to naught," Mr Protasevich said of his former associates. "But I don't care what they will be saying."

"I immediately admitted my guilt in organising massive unauthorised actions," Mr Protasevich said.

"I criticised Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] a lot, but when I became more involved in political topics, I began to understand that he was doing the right thing and I certainly respect him," he said in the 90-minute video.