Relatives, opposition leader believe detained Belarusian journalist was forced to make video confession

Roman Protasevich during an earlier protest in Belarus.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Dzmitry Protasevich says it's clear that his son, Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, was coerced by authorities into making a video where he admits to organizing "mass riots."

"It's not his words, it's not the intonation of speech, he is acting very reserved, and you can see he is nervous," Dzmitry Protasevich told Reuters on Tuesday. "My son cannot admit to creating the mass disorders, because he just didn't do any such thing."

On Sunday, Roman Protasevich, 26, was on a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania when Belarus' authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, ordered a fighter jet to escort the plane to the Minsk airport. Once on the ground, Protasevich was arrested. He is the co-founder of an opposition news outlet, and last year was placed on Belarus' list of terrorists, accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder.

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In a 29-second video released Monday and posted to social media channels allied with Lukashenko, Protasevich said authorities were treating him "as correctly as possible" and he wasn't experiencing any health issues. It looked like there were bruises and abrasions on Protasevich's face, and he appeared to be reading from a script. His father told Reuters it looked like Protasevich's nose had been broken, "because the shape of it is changed."

Amnesty International spokesman Alexander Artemyev told The Washington Post it looked like Protasevich had possibly been subjected to "torture or other ill-treatment." Lukashenko is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator," and Belarusian authorities have been accused of intimidating political prisoners into making forced confessions. After watching the video of Protasevich, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said there was "no doubt" he had been tortured and was "under pressure."

A second video was released on Tuesday night, this time showing Protasevich's girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who was detained with him on Sunday. In this clip, Sapega states that she is behind a Telegram channel that released the personal information of law enforcement officers.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.