A Belarusian dissident journalist appeared in video Monday evening, less than two days after the airliner he was traveling in was abruptly hijacked by a fighter jet and forced to land in the Belarusian capital.
In a video released by Belarusian officials and broadcast on public television and social media, Roman Protasevich, 26, speaks Russian because he says he has no health problems, “including the heart or any other organ, and I am absolutely treated by the police. correctly and in accordance with the law. ”
The detention of the blogger by the government of Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as the last European dictator, sparked a furious reaction from the United States, the European Union and NATO.
Protasevich’s father, meanwhile, called his son’s detention “utter madness” and rejected the video due to coercion and duress. Dzmitry Protasevich told Reuters in an interview that his son’s face looked bruised and his nose was broken, and his tongue appeared to be heavily written.
Protasevich appeared to have bruises and abrasions on his face in the video.
“It’s not his words, it’s not his intonation. He’s acting very reserved and you can see he’s nervous, ”Protasevich’s father said from his home in Poland.
The EU, which called Sunday’s hijacking a “hijack”, appeared to translate strong language into action, and announced on Monday that some air links would be cut and new sanctions imposed on an unknown number of individuals and Belarusian companies.
After a meeting in Brussels, the 27-nation bloc agreed to ban Belarusian airlines from EU airspace and urged “all EU-based carriers to avoid flying over Belarus”, the body said in a joint statement.
The EU also called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to investigate the forced landing of the Ryanair flight, which was carrying Protasevich.
“It’s an attack on democracy, it’s an attack on freedom of expression and it’s an attack on European sovereignty”, The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.
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President Joe Biden also condemned Belarus for its actions, saying the forced landing was a “direct affront to international standards,” and called for an investigation.
“This scandalous incident and the video Mr. Pratasevich appears to have made under duress are shameful attacks on political dissent and press freedom,” Biden said in a statement.
However, Western leaders will need to be cautious to avoid pushing Lukashenko into even closer ties with his key ally, Russia, according to Keir Giles, senior researcher in the Russia and Eurasia program at London think tank Chatham House.
Lukashenko’s actions may be proof that he now sees “no problem” in becoming a “rogue state” and places little value on relations with the West, Giles said.
“There could not be a clearer statement that Lukashenko has turned its back on the West – and in doing so has put all its bets on its difficult relationship with Moscow,” he added.
After authoritarian leader Lukashenko resisted rare mass protests against his government after contested 2020 elections, the EU and the US imposed several rounds of financial sanctions against Minsk.
Lukashenko denies electoral fraud.
Since the disputed vote, authorities have rounded up thousands of his opponents, many of whom are currently in prison or in exile, according to human rights groups.
On Twitter, leader of the opposition in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, called for a global demonstration in solidarity with Belarusians on Saturday.