Detained journalist Raman Pratasevich appeared on Belarusian state television on Thursday, tearfully confessing to his role in anti-government protests in an interview which the opposition said was made under duress.
In his third appearance since his Ryanair plane was forced to land in Belarus by the authorities on 23 May, Pratasevich admitted to plotting to topple President Alexander Lukashenko by organising “riots” and recanted earlier criticism of the veteran leader.
Pratasevich sat on a stark black set and said: “I am cooperating absolutely fully and openly … and live an ordinary, calm life, have a family, children, stop running away from something.”
At the end of the 1.5-hour interview broadcast by Belarus state-run channel ONT on Thursday evening, Pratasevich began crying and covered his face with his hands.
The 26-year-old’s father, Dmitry Pratasevich, said that the video was the result of “abuse, torture and threats.”
“I know my son very well and I believe that he would never say such things,” he told AFP. “They broke him and forced him to say what was needed,” he said, adding it pained him to watch the interview.
Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said it was painful to see “confessions” and called Pratasevich a “hostage of the regime”.
“We must make all possible to release him and the other 460 political prisoners,” he wrote on Twitter.
Ahead of the broadcast, independent rights group Viasna said that Protasevich must have been coerced into speaking by Belarusian security services because he is facing “unfair, but very serious accusations”.
“Everything Pratasevich will say was said under duress – at the very least psychological duress,” Viasna head Ales Bialiatski told AFP Thursday. “Whatever he is saying now is pure propaganda, under which there is no truthful basis.”
Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, were arrested in Minsk on 23 May after Belarus scrambled a military jet to divert the Athens-Vilnius Ryanair plane they were travelling on.
The opposition has said a video confession made last month by Russian citizen Sapega appeared coerced. Lukashenko’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the accusations.
Previously, authorities have said Pratasevich is an extremist who has facilitated violence. They have maintained aired television confessions by members of the opposition were made voluntarily.
Pratasevich said he was giving the interview of his own volition.
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 a contested election last year.
Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday she believed Pratasevich had been beaten and tortured in prison. A lawyer who visited Pratasevich said he was fine.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report