Belarus opposition leader claims jailed blogger Roman Protasevich has been tortured and beaten

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya says Minsk government is a threat to regional and European security

A Belarusian dog handler checks luggage off the Ryanair aircraft diverted to Minsk International Airport. AFP
A Belarusian dog handler checks luggage off the Ryanair aircraft diverted to Minsk International Airport. AFP

Journalist Roman Protasevich has been beaten and tortured in jail in Belarus, the country’s leading opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, claimed on Monday.

Protasevich, 26, was detained on May 23 after his Ryanair flight was forced into an emergency landing in Minsk in an incident that caused global uproar.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya said a lawyer visited Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, in jail.

The lawyer said he was fine “but it’s doubtful, because for sure he was tortured, for sure he was beaten", the opposition leader said.

Opposition figures say footage broadcast on state TV, in which Protasevich confessed to organising demonstrations, is evidence he has been tortured.

Protasevich’s family previously said the blogger appeared to have been beaten when he spoke in a video released by Belarusian authorities.

His parents joined a rally in Poland’s capital Warsaw at the weekend, amid global anger over Protasevich’s arrest.

Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich was arrested in Minsk after landing in Belarus. Reuters 
Opposition blogger and activist Roman Protasevich was arrested in Minsk after landing in Belarus. Reuters 

EU anger over Ryanair flight diversion

The flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted because Belarus claimed there was a bomb threat, which has been dismissed by world powers as a ruse to arrest the journalist.

Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko later claimed that the journalist had been plotting a rebellion.

The diversion of the flight was an act of “state piracy”, EU commissioner Thierry Breton told AFP on Monday.

"It is an unacceptable event,” Mr Breton said.

“There has been a hijack, not just of an EU plane with European passengers but a hijack of European values, and that we will not tolerate.”

Europe "has been under attack with this act of state piracy", he said. “We will not leave this unpunished.”

Mr Breton said the EU was working on more sanctions to impose on Belarus, in addition to those placed after a disputed election last year.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus after the election, discussed possible new sanctions while on a visit to Estonia on Monday.

She accused Mr Lukashenko of taking the country “on a path to self-destruction for the sake of personal power and glory”.

"His regime is now a threat to regional and European security," Ms Tsikhanouskaya said.

Many European countries have told airlines to avoid Belarus’s airspace and banned the country’s carriers from their skies since Protasevich's arrest.

Updated: June 2, 2021 06:02 PM

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