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Belarusian activist Raman Pratasevich pardoned: state media

May 22, 2023

The opposition blogger was arrested in 2021 after his Ryanair flight was diverted and forced to land in Minsk. He was sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this month on charges including inciting terrorism.

Raman Pratasevich at a press conference in Minsk in 2021
The jailing of Raman Pratasevich sparked international condemnation Image: Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/AP

Raman Protasevich, the Belarusian opposition blogger arrested two years ago after the plane was on was forced to land in Minsk, was pardoned on Monday, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported.

"I have literally just signed all the relevant documents stating that I have been pardoned," Belta cited the blogger as telling reporters. "This is, of course, great news."

Protasevich had been sentenced to eight years in a penal colony earlier this month for offenses including inciting terrorism, organizing mass disturbances and slandering Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Blogger charged after reporting on anti-government protests

Protasevich had worked as a journalist at the news outlet Nexta, which reported extensively on mass protests across Belarus against Lukashenko in 2020 following a presidential election that the opposition and Western governments denounced as rigged.

The protests, which lasted for months, were the longest and largest demonstration of opposition to Lukashenko since he took power in 1994.

Belarusian authorities responded with a brutal crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested, thousands beaten by police and dozens of media outlets and nongovernmental organizations shut.

Viasna, a Belarusian human rights organization, says nearly 1,500 people have been put behind bars in connection with opposition activities.

Under duress, Protasevich pleaded 'fully guilty'

After his arrest, Protasevich was believed to have been coerced by authorities into issuing apologetic statements on state television. 

When his trial began in February, he said in a video published by Belta that he was "fully guilty."

Some in the exiled Belarusian opposition have accused him of collaborating with authorities. 

Little is known about how Protasevich was treated by security services.  

Ryanair flight diversion alarmed Europe, world

Protasevich's arrest shocked law enforcement agencies and aviation authorities around the world

A Belarusian fighter jet forced his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk, where he was taken off the plane.

Nexta, a popular channel on YouTube and Telegram, played an active role in the 2020 protests, which erupted after Lukashenko was accused of rigging an election.

The platform was banned and declared a "terrorist organization."

mm/nm (AFP, Reuters)

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