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Belarus parades 'hostage' Pratasevich before press yet again

Jon Shelton
June 15, 2021

The dissident journalist was presented at a Foreign Ministry press conference on the diversion of his plane to Minsk on May 23. The move prompted one reporter to walk out.

 Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich gestures while speaking at a news conference at the National Press Center of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk
Belarusian authorities have brought Raman Pratasevic out for several appearances nowImage: Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/AP

The Belarus Foreign Ministry presented jailed dissident Raman Pratasevich at a Monday press conference addressing the diversion of the commercial airliner he was aboard when he was arrested on May 23.

"I am fine! I feel perfect! I am not a hostage, but my parents are hostages. My parents are used by politicians. My parents can return home safely," Pratasevich, who showed no signs of physical torture, told reporters.

Pratasevich's parents, who live in Poland, have called on Western leaders, especially Angela Merkel, to help secure their son's release."No matter what he says, let's not forget: he is a hostage. And the regime is using him as a trophy," wrote Franak Viacorka, adviser to exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Twitter.

Belarus press conference diverted

Monday's press conference was called to address the diversion and forced landing of a commercial jet on route from Greece to Lithuania by Belarus authorities.

Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were onboard the Ryan Air flight when Belarus air controllers ordered it divert to Minsk and land due to a bomb threat. A Belarus fighter jet reportedly accompanied the airliner.

Pratasevich and Sapega were promptly arrested upon landing and removed from the plane. No bomb was found, nor did Belarus authorities make mention of it thereafter. The plane was then allowed to resume its flight.

Western governments were furious at what they called "air piracy." The European Union leveled sanctions against Belarus and banned its national carriers from EU airspace. Thus far, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been Lukashenko's only ally.

The brazenness of the Belarus regime's display of Pratasevich on Monday prompted BBC journalist Jonah Fisher to walk out of the press conference in protest, tweeting, "not taking part when he is clearly there under duress." 

Pratasevich becoming a regular on Belarus TV

Monday's press conference was Pratasevich's third televised appearance since his arrest.

In the first, he admitted guilt and expressed regret for his activities organizing demonstrations against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, whom he said had "balls of steel."

In the second, he told supporters that now was not the time for protests against the government, adding that they were futile.

DW's Alexandra Boguslawskaja, who was at the Monday press conference, said the Lukashenko regime is clearly trying to use Pratasevich to "convince the whole world and the Belarussian people that Lukashenko has won" the disputed presidential election that sparked the country's wave of mass protests.

A blogger critical of Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, Pratasevich previously served as the editor-in-chief of the Telegram channel Nexta, which was one of the main channels used by organizers and protesters. If is found guilty of the charges Minsk has threatened, he could face up to 15 years in prison.