The arrested journalist Roman Pratasevich is crying on Belarusian state television


The breakaway Belarusian journalist and opposition activist, the arrested after his flight was redirected to Minsk in an interview on state television on Thursday, said he was fully cooperating with investigators and stated that he respected the authoritarian president he had fought against for years.

The show was the 26-year-old’s second appearance in two days Raman Pratasevichwhose arrest on May 23 was denounced in the West. Belarus could try to counter this criticism by showing him on television as intimidated and remorseful.

Pratasevich was one of the founders of a messaging app channel that was a key information channel for opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko, whose election for a sixth term last year sparked months of protests, many of which drew 100,000 people or more.

Pratasevich was arrested after his flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania was rerouted following an alleged bomb threat. Western countries say that the move was tantamount to air piracy by Belarus.

In this handout photo, released by the ONT channel on Wednesday June 2, 2021, dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich speaks in a video from a detention center in Minsk, Belarus.

ONT channel via AP

At the end of the 90-minute interview, in which Pratasevich was sitting on a blazing black set, he said, “I cooperate completely and openly … and live a normal, quiet life, have a family, children, stop running away from something. “

Then he covered his face with his hands and cried.

Lukashenko has suppressed the opposition and independent news media since he came to power in the former Soviet republic in 1994. He went through against the wave of protests. About 35,000 people were arrested by the police and many of them were beaten.

“Lukashenko acted like a man with steel balls in many moments,” said Pratsevich. When asked by the interviewer whether he respected Lukashenko, Pratasevich said “sure”.

Pratsevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, said he had contact with conspirators plotting a violent seizure of power in Belarus and that he was a link between them and opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanuskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the Lukashenko election defeat .

Russia arrested two Belarusians in April who were allegedly plotting to overthrow Lukashenko.

Pratasevich said there are “most likely several sleeper cells” left by coup plotters in Belarus.

In footage broadcast on state television on Wednesday, Pratasevich said the demonstrations against Lukashenko fizzled out and the opposition should wait for a better moment to revive them. He also said it was founded by an unknown employee.

The host of the program on the ONT channel claimed that the Belarusian authorities did not know that Pratasevich was on board the diverted Ryanair jet.

Outraged European Union leaders responded to the flight diversion by locking Belarusian airline Belavia out of the bloc’s airports and airspace and telling European airlines to bypass Belarus. They also drafted new measures against the country’s leading industrial companies, doubling the sanctions previously imposed by the US and the EU.

Lukashenko has accused the West of trying to “strangle” his country with sanctions.

In retaliation for US sanctions against Belarusian companies, the Belarusian State Department announced on Thursday that it would cut US diplomats, tighten travel rules for Americans and other restrictions.

“Now we have to … give up the street activities that we had before, those formats that we were working in,” Pratasevich said on Wednesday’s show. “Because there are simply no such activities now and there cannot be any now.”

He said the opposition should wait for an economic downturn to pose a new challenge.

“We’ll have to wait for the economy to get worse … and people will take to the streets to have a bowl of soup, to be frank,” he said.

He described seeing heavily armed special forces waiting while the plane rolled to a parking lot.

“It was a special SWAT unit – uniforms, body armor and weapons,” he said.

The journalist said he shared his travel plans in a chat with staff 40 minutes before leaving. He claimed that the bomb threat might have been issued by someone he had a personal conflict with, but did not provide any further information.

Pratasevich alleged that the person – whom he did not identify – had connections with opposition hackers who had attacked official Belarusian websites and issued bomb threats in the past.

“The first thing I thought was that I was getting set up,” he said. “When the plane was on a runway, I realized there was no point in panicking.”

Some time before the flight, Pratasevich said he had an argument with Franak Viachorka, an advisor to Tsikhanouskaya.

When asked about the Wednesday video, Viachorka told The Associated Press that Pratasevich was now “a hostage under pressure” and insisted that they were on friendly terms.

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