Roman Protasevich: Belarusian opposition leader believes blogger has been tortured

Leading opposition politician says ‘for sure he was beaten’

Samuel Osborne
Monday 31 May 2021 12:20
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A blogger arrested in Belarus has been beaten and tortured in jail, a leading opposition politician has said.

Sviatlana Tsikhanoushkaya said a lawyer who visited Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, said he was fine "but it is doubtful, because for sure he was tortured, for sure he was beaten.”

The 26-year-old and his girlfriend were detained on 23 May after their plane was forced to land in Minsk because of an alleged bomb threat. The flight was flying over Belarus en route from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya offered no evidence for her assertion, although Mr Protasevich's family has also said a video of him from detention showed signs of torture.

The decision to force the plane carrying Mr Protasevich and Ms Sapega led to widespread denunciation in the West as an act of hijacking, and several nations have called for the blogger’s release. The European Union also banned flights from Belarus.

Mr Protasevic, who co-founded Nexta, the main opposition platform during last year’s protests, allegedly told fellow passengers on their descent to Minsk that “a death sentence” was awaiting him in Belarus.

He earned the ire of the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, when Nexta became the most widely used opposition site during a brutal crackdown against protesters.

Nexta never coordinated the protests but curated readers’ content and leaks, the journalist told The Independent in August: “We saw that those who had the potential to be a protest leader were either in prison or under surveillance. It was our time to step up.”

He is charged with organising riots, a charge that carries a potential sentence of 15 years.

The day after his arrest, authorities released a brief video in which Mr Protasevich said he was confessing, but observers said the statement appeared to be forced.

The Belarusian human rights group, Viasna, said on Sunday that Mr Protasevich had received a package from his sister but that an unspecified book had been taken from it.

Belarus denies abusing detainees.

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