RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
MINSK -- A new video featuring Raman Pratasevich has sparked a fresh outcry, with the opposition and the parents of the Belarusian journalist saying he had been coerced into making the statements and urging the international community to apply further pressure on strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
On the Nothing Personal program on the ONT state television channel late on June 3, a tearful Pratasevich praised Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka and said he "immediately confessed to organizing mass disorder" after his arrest.
Pratasevich, a former key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live, was arrested after a fighter jet intercepted a Ryanair flight on May 23 and forced it to land in Minsk. He had been covering the mass protests denouncing the official results of an August presidential poll that handed Lukashenka a sixth presidential term.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya on June 4 urged the international community not to pay heed to the statements, saying, "All such videos are done under pressure."
It is not clear where and when the conversation was recorded, as the "interview" -- which resembled a Soviet-style propaganda broadcast -- was shot in a dark room.
"[Through using violence] you can make a person say whatever you want," Tsikhanouskaya told a news conference in Warsaw.
At the end of the 90-minute interview, Pratasevich began crying and covered his face with his hands, saying he hoped to be able to have a family some day. (RFE/RL has decided not to publish or link to any of the videos showing Pratasevich.)
The video is the result of "abuse, torture, and threats," said Pratasevich's father, Dzmitry.
"It's painful to see 'confessions' of Raman Pratasevich. His parents believe he was tortured. This is not Raman I know," tweeted Franak Vyachorka, a senior adviser to Tsikhanouskaya.
Pratasevich's father, Dzmitry, said the video broadcast on June 3 was the result of "abuse, torture, and threats."
Earlier, he and Pratasevich's mother, Natallya, had told Current Time that previous videos showing their son's "confessions" that appeared on state television channels in recent days were "attempts of the authorities to justify taking hostage" their son and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, a Russian national.
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
According to the parents, their son had bruises on his face and strangulation marks on his neck in initial videos that were signs proving that the arrested journalist's "confessions" were made under duress.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called for those involved in broadcasting the alleged confession by Pratasevich to be held responsible, calling it "disturbing" and saying the journalist was "clearly under duress."
In Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said that the German government “condemns in the strongest terms” Pratasevich's TV appearance and dismissed his confessions as “completely unworthy and implausible.”
"This is a disgrace for the broadcaster that screened it and for the Belarusian leadership,” Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, speaking during a trip to Denmark, denounced the broadcast as a manifestation of "state terrorism."
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, said the "degrading and humiliating" interview showed Pratasevich to be "under intolerable psychological pressure," and that the journalist had "visible wounds on his wrists."
"It was a televised coercion," Struthers said.
Many Belarusian opposition activists and rights defenders in the former Soviet republic believe that Pratasevich's statements were coerced and that his girlfriend's arrest was carried out to put additional pressure on him.
Tsikhanouskaya called on the United States, Britain, and the European Union to act jointly to put more pressure on Lukashenka and his government.
"Pressure is more powerful when these countries are acting jointly and we are calling on U.K., the U.S., the European Union, and Ukraine. They have to act jointly so their voice will be louder," Tsikhanouskaya told Reuters in Warsaw on June 4.
Pratasevich, 26, is facing charges of being behind civil disturbances that followed the disputed presidential election in August, an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Belarusian security forces have arrested more than 30,000 people, including dozens of journalists who covered the rallies that erupted after Lukashenka was announced the winner.
The plane forced by Belarusian authorities to land in Minsk on May 23 to arrest Pratasevich and his girlfriend was flying from Athens to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, over Belarusian airspace.
The move sparked international outrage and demands for Pratasevich's release. The European Union banned flights from Belarus after the incident.
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