Parents Of Snatched Belarusian Blogger Accuse Minsk Of 'Sadism,' Appeal For Merkel's Help

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

The parents of the jailed Belarusian blogger detained after his international flight was forcibly diverted to Minsk have appealed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for assistance to secure his release, according to Germany's Bild.

Dzmitry and Natallya Pratasevich, who are in Poland after fleeing Belarus 10 months ago, said in an interview published on June 12 that their 26-year-old son, Raman, and other Belarusian political prisoners are being subjected to "sadism and violence on a daily basis."

"We ask very much for you to help us get all the innocent people out of [Belarusian] prisons," Pratasevich's mother said in her appeal to Merkel, adding, "They urgently need help because they are exposed to sadism and violence on a daily basis."

The younger Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were seized after Belarusian authorities cited a dubious bomb threat to force a Ryanair flight between Athens and Vilnius to land at Minsk's international airport on May 23.

The Western backlash to what many regard as a "state hijacking" has been fierce, with sanctions targeting Belarusian officials and bans and other measures targeting air travel from -- and even over -- Belarus.

Western governments had already imposed multiple rounds of sanctions against the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka since a violent crackdown began over massive protests that broke out after Lukashenka claimed a sixth-term reelection victory in August.

"Please stop Lukashenka," Natallya Pratasevich appealed to the German leader. "Every additional day -- no, every additional hour -- that goes by costs innocents, including children, their lives."

The Prataseviches say the letters they have sent to their son have not been delivered and that his lawyer "cannot talk to us freely on the phone."

Pratasevich is now facing charges in Belarus of inciting civil unrest that could keep him in prison for 15 years or more. 

But the Belarusian opposition, his supporters, and international rights groups have warned of a more immediate risk to his life if he remains in the custody of the Lukashenka administration.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned on June 11 that Belarus might be slipping "into pariah status" after the airplane diversion.

"We need Belarus to step up and live up to the basic, fundamental, cardinal rules of international law," Raab said.

Pratasevich's parents have led a chorus of outrage and insist the charges are trumped up. They have also rejected the validity of videos of a haggard-looking Pratasevich allegedly confessing to wrongdoing.

In the Bild interview, they cited "clear signs of torture," including a possible broken nose and bruising" in the videotaped "forced confessions."

Videos and other evidence of the brutal physical abuse of detainees has multiplied since the protests erupted in August and authorities launched a wave of thousands of arrests.

Sapega's family said on June 10 that it had just received their first letters from her since the couple was arrested more than two weeks ago, addressed from a KGB prison in Minsk.

With reporting by Bild and Deutsche Welle