Detained dissident journalist weeps on Belarusian state television

Roman Protasevich
Roman Protasevich (AP)
1:56am, Fri 04 Jun 2021
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The dissident Belarusian journalist and opposition activist who was arrested after his airline flight was diverted to Minsk wept in an interview on state television, saying he was fully cooperating with investigators and declaring that he respects the authoritarian president he opposed for years.

The broadcast was the second appearance in two days by 26-year-old Roman Protasevich, whose arrest on May 23 was denounced in the West. By showing him on TV as cowed and repentant, Belarus could aim to counter that criticism.

Mr Protasevich was a founder of a messaging app channel that was a key information conduit for opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko, whose election to a sixth term last year set off months of protests, many of them attracting 100,000 people or more.

Belarus Dissident Journalist (AP)

Mr Protasevich was 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.

At the end of the 90-minute interview, in which Mr Protasevich sat on a stark black set, he said, “I am cooperating absolutely fully and openly … and live an ordinary, calm life, have a family, children, stop running away from something.”

He then covered his face with his hands and wept.

Mr Lukashenko has suppressed opposition and independent news media since taking power in the former Soviet republic in 1994.

Alexander Lukashenko (AP)

He cracked down on the wave of protests, with some 35,000 people detained by police and many beaten.

“In many moments, (Lukashenko) acted like a man with balls of steel,” Mr Protsevich said. Asked by the interviewer if he respects Mr Lukashenko, Mr Protasevich said “certainly.”

Mr Protsevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, said he had been in contact with conspirators who planned a forceful seizure of power in Belarus and that he was a liaison between them and opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanuskaya, who fled to Lithuania after losing the election to Lukashenko.

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