This is because Protasevich, a prominent critic of the president, has played an “extremely important role” in mobilizing people to join street protests over the past year, said Franak Viacorka, who advises the leader. of the opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
“He wrote stories, he commented on the news and he explained to people basic things – why they should get involved in politics, why everyone should participate,” Viacorka told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Monday.
“That is why he has become the enemy, the personal enemy of (President) Lukashenko,” he declared.
Belarusians took to the streets after a presidential election in August 2020 which the opposition and some election workers said was rigged. Lukashenko, who has ruled the eastern European country of about 9.4 million people for more than a quarter of a century, has denied the accusations.
Viacorka said Protasevich, 26, still fights for justice and is a symbol of young people who want change in the country.
‘The hardest time’
Police arrested Protasevich when passengers disembarked in Minsk. His girlfriend Sofya Sapega, a 23-year-old Russian citizen studying at the European University of Humanities in Lithuania, was also arrested, according to reports.
People are usually sent for questioning which could last for days after their detention, Viacorka said.
“This is the most difficult time,” he said, adding that the authorities would try to get as much information as possible from the detainees.
“I am really worried for (Protasevich’s) safety, for his health and even for his life,” he said.
Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images
“In the Belarusian KGB, this is the place where people disappear. This is the place where people lose their health, and sometimes people die, ”Viacorka said.
“I hope he’s healthy and fit, but I know for sure that the KGB won’t let him go easily,” he said.
On Tuesday, Viacorka posted a video of Protasevich on Twitter. He wrote that the clip – in which Protasevich says he was treated properly and legally – is “terrifying” and that the reporter was “clearly” beaten.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.
He also told CNBC that Lukashenko’s actions, if confirmed, were not a sign of power but “a sign of desperation, and also a sign that Lukashenko will not stay in power for long.”
“We see how Belarus is moving from an authoritarian state to North Korea, a North Korea in the center of Europe,” he said.
“It’s not just domestic policy, it’s about European security right now… the EU, along with the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom must take a firm stand and impose strong sanctions, ”he added. Russia has defended Belarus and analysts say Moscow could benefit if Minsk’s relations with the West were strained further.
Viacorka said Belarus could be a “success story” if Washington and Brussels work together and called on EU leaders to help the country.
Politicians around the world have expressed outrage at the incident and have called for the immediate release of Protasevich and Sapega.
The European Union has decided to ban Belarusian airlines from European skies and told EU airlines not to fly over Belarus. The leaders of the 27 member states also pledged to enact new targeted economic sanctions.
Local communities have also emerged and can help the country build “an authentic and genuine democracy” in the future, he added.
Those who oppose the Lukashenko regime must remain optimistic and united on the “very long road to freedom and democracy”, he declared.
“I have been attacked several times in different rallies and demonstrations, but I have to say that we have never been so close to victory as we are now,” Viacorka said.
He said he was “very hopeful” that political prisoners and exiles will be able to return home next year.
“We will reflect, together, on how to build Belarus -ee, European, democratic, open to the world, with people who are happy to live in this country”, he declared.