May 24 (UPI) — A Belarusian activist who was detained after his commercial flight was forced to land in Minsk appeared in a new video released Monday in which he confesses to organizing mass protests.
In a video apparently shot by authorities and posted onto Twitter by independent Belarusian journalists, Roman Protasevich is shown sitting at a desk wearing a dark hoodie with his hands folded tightly in front of him. Marks are seen on his forehead.
Protasevich — a blogger and prominent critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko — says in the clip he is in good health at a pre-trial detention facility and admits helping to lead large-scale anti-government protests in Minsk last year, Britain’s Sky News reported.
The video was first circulated on a pro-government channel of the Telegram app, according to the independent Belarusian journalism organization MediaZone.
The Lukashenko regime forced a Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania to land within its borders Sunday and arrested Protasevich on board, inciting worldwide anger and accusations of committing terrorism by “hijacking” a civilian plane.
Belarusian aviation authorities said the flight was diverted to Minsk due to a reported bomb threat — an explanation roundly denounced by Western leaders.
The European Council, which represents the governments of the European Union’s member states, on Monday demanded that Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega — who was also detained by authorities in the incident — be immediately released.
In an issued statement, the Council called on the International Civil Aviation Organization “to urgently investigate this unprecedented and unacceptable incident” and for all EU air carriers “to avoid overflight of Belarus.”
The member nations also urged new EU sanctions against Belarus and its government as well as bans on overflight of EU airspace and access to European airports by Belarusian airlines.
Earlier sanctions against Belarus were imposed by the EU after the country’s 2020 presidential election, in which Lukashenko won a sixth term despite widespread international condemnation of the contest being neither fair nor free.
Subsequent mass demonstrations were met wet with a brutal crackdown on dissent during which thousands of arrests were made.
Existing EU sanctions include a ban on travel to the EU and an asset freeze for 88 individuals, including Lukashenko. EU citizens and entities are forbidden from making funds available to those on the list, either directly or indirectly.