Belarus airs more footage of detained activist as family call it ‘hostage’ video

The family of the detained activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich and members of Belarus’s opposition have decried what they described as a “hostage” video after state television aired a primetime “interview” that they believe was filmed under duress.

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In his third appearance since his Ryanair plane was forced to land in Belarus by the authorities on 23 May, Pratasevich appeared battered, with cuts on his wrists. During the appearance, he claimed that no makeup had been applied to hide marks from torture.

The 26-year-old’s father, Dmitry Pratasevich, said the video was the result of “abuse, torture and threats”.
Belarusian activist stabs himself in court
Read more

“I know my son very well and I believe that he would never say such things,” he told Agence France-Presse. “They broke him and forced him to say what was needed,” he added, saying it pained him to watch the interview.

Franak Viačorka, an adviser to the Belarus opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said it was painful to see “confessions” and called Pratasevich a “hostage of the regime”.

Belarusian rights groups have told the Guardian the government is increasingly using coerced confessions as a propaganda tool to silence dissent. Prisoners have described being forced to memorise pre-written confessions and then deliver them to television crews from prison.

“It’s become widespread now,” said Valentin Stefanovich of the Viasna human rights centre. “And in a bunch of cases they don’t even hide that people were tortured before giving the confessions.”

In the nearly hour-long appearance, Pratasevich gave remarks inconsistent with his previous political views, praising the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, and decrying the opposition under Tsikhanouskaya, saying her movement was being funded by European governments and wealthy Belarusians in exile.

He named other activists whom he said were involved in a protest movement that rocked Belarus following Lukashenko’s disputed reelection last summer. He has ruled the country since 1994.
‘Persecuted, jailed, destroyed’: Belarus seeks to stifle dissent
Read more

Pratasevich also teared up when asked if he was concerned about threats of being handed over to Russian-backed forces in east Ukraine, where Lukashenko has said he could face the death penalty. Pratasevich repeated a previous statement, given on camera in a Belarusian police station after his arrest, that he was cooperating with investigators.

Pratasevich’s girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, was arrested with him and is now facing criminal charges after giving an on-camera confession in a Belarusian police station that her relatives have also said was coerced.
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European officials have also decried the interview. The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, on Friday said it was filmed “clearly under duress” and that “those involved in the filming, coercion and direction of the interview must be held accountable”.

Ahead of the broadcast, Viasna said Pratasevich must have been coerced into speaking by Belarusian security services because he was facing “unfair, but very serious accusations”.

“Everything Pratasevich will say was said under duress – at the very least psychological duress,” the Viasna head, Ales Bialiatski, told AFP Thursday. “Whatever he is saying now is pure propaganda, under which there is no truthful basis.”

Pratasevich and Sapega, 23, were arrested in Minsk after Belarus scrambled a military jet to divert the Athens-Vilnius Ryanair plane they were travelling on.
Belarus regime uses video confessions as a tool to silence dissent
Read more

The opposition has also said the video confession made last month by Sapega, a Russian citizen, appeared coerced.

Previously, authorities have said Pratasevich is an extremist who has facilitated violence. They have maintained that television confessions by members of the opposition were made voluntarily.

Recent evidence has shown that the government has piled pressure on opposition members in order to secure confessions in a nearly year-long crackdown on dissent.

Earlier this week, the jailed activist Stsiapan Latypau stabbed himself in the throat with a pen during a court hearing in Minsk. Prior to stabbing himself, Latypau said he had been held in a punitive cell where inmates faced beatings and torture for more than 50 days. He also said investigators had told him to confess or they would arrest his friends and family.

In another case, a teenager being investigated for allegedly “inciting riots”, the most common criminal charge used against protesters, jumped off a 16-storey building, blaming Belarus’s Investigative Committee for putting “moral pressure” on him.

Before his arrest, Pratasevich had given no indication he supported Lukashenko or held the views aired in the interview. After serving as an editor-in-chief of Nexta, a Telegram channel that both broadcast and helped coordinate protests last year, he had remained active in Belarus’s opposition media and last month called Lukashenko a “dictator”.

He was arrested while returning from vacation in Greece following a conference where Tsikhanouskaya addressed European officials.

Western countries and international rights groups have condemned Lukashenko over the forced landing of the aircraft and also imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials over a crackdown on protests following the contested election last year.

Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday she believed Pratasevich had been beaten and tortured in prison.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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