Belarusian journalist arrested on Ryanair flight says: ‘I was set up’

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Both Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofya Sapega appeared in 'confession' videos shortly after arrest, incriminating themselves - AFP/AFP

Both Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofya Sapega appeared in ‘confession’ videos shortly after arrest, incriminating themselves – AFP/AFP

Belarusian state television has released a new video of Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist taken off a Ryanair flight and arrested in Minsk, showing him sticking to the official line that the forced landing of his plane in Minsk was a set-up of the West.

Belarus last month scrambled a fighter jet, forcing Ryanair’s Athens-Vilnius flight to land in Minsk over a suspected bomb threat.

Mr Protasevich, former editor-in-chief of the opposition mouthpiece Nexta, was arrested on the tarmac alongside his girlfriend, a Russian national. Mr Protasevich, who has lived in exile since 2019, was wanted in Belarus on a set of criminal charges including organising riots.

Two weeks after Belarusian state media released a disturbing video of the journalist in custody, which prompted his family to say he had been tortured, state-owned ONT channel on Monday night put out a teaser for a new expose of the incident.

Mr Protasevich was seen in a 13-second clip sitting at a table and talking to supposed investigators.

“I was set up,” the man, dressed in the same black hoodie as in the previous video, said.

“There was a thing I didn’t say to anyone before but as soon as I said it – I immediately found myself in Minsk.”

It was not clear what Mr Protasevich was referring to but Belarusian state TV used his remarks to back up the authorities’ claim that they did not mean to force that plane to land in Minsk.

Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, sought to portray the hijacking as an incident which was caused by a bomb threat and accused the West of a “planned provocation.” The West has decried the incident as state terrorism, and most European nations have closed their airspace to Belarusian flights and have begun to bypass Belarus.

Belavia, the state-owned national flagship airline, said on Wednesday that it has lost over two-thirds of its destinations following the Ryanair row.

The plane hijacking has rekindled the West’s appetite for sanctions against the Lukashenko regime which somewhat dwindled after last year’s presidential elections marred by staggering police violence and torture of anti-regime protesters in custody.