Protasevich appears at press conference, experts doubt statements

The captured Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich appeared at a press conference on the forced landing of the Ryanair aircraft, from which he was taken out last month. The 26-year-old government critic stated that he feels fine, reports amongst others CCEIT correspondent Iris de Graaf.

The press conference, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk, was organized, according to the authorities, to refute โ€œthe fake newsโ€ about the forced landing of the Ryanair aircraft. Once again, it was denied that there was a forced landing, but that was only intervened after a bomb warning. In their own words, when the plane landed, the authorities didn‘t find that Protasevich was on board.

Also, the Ministry presented a list of offense charges that Protasevich and his girlfriend would have been guilty of. According to De Graaf, it comes down to both being able to get twelve to fifteen years in jail.

At the end of the press conference, journalists were able to ask Protasevich questions about his health. He stated that he feels healthy and has no complaints. When asked whether he was also tortured by the Belarusian police, Protasevich said that he had already expected โ€œthat jokeโ€ and that no one even touched him. He also said that he is not a fan of President Lukashenko, but that he respects him as a human being. He also confessed to blame for organizing massive demonstrations and riots.

Completely contradictory

From all sorts of sides, the press conference is described as unbelievable. Especially that he now confesses guilt for organizing โ€œmass cellsโ€ and says how much respect he has for Lukashenko is not believed.

Correspondent De Graaf says that Protasevich’s media performance is in stark contrast to how we have seen him in recent years; as an activist and critical journalist, who was at the forefront of the protests and fought for a free Belarus until last month.

The team of opposition politician Svetlana Tichanovskaya also says that this is not the Protasevich they know – and that he is undoubtedly pressurized. โ€œWe must remember that he is a hostage of the Belarusian regime that is now deployed as a trophy,โ€ said the Belarusian opposition on Twitter.

BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher, who attended the press conference, left the room, because he said Protasevich was clearly forced to make the statements. Other journalists did not believe a word of what the journalist said and assume that he made his statements under force.

Previously, the Belarusian state channel ONT broadcast an interview with the captured journalist. Like today, he then took responsibility for โ€œactions that violate public orderโ€ and said to respect President Lukashenko. Even then outside Belarus it was assumed that the conversation was diminished under pressure.