Belarus airs questioning of journalist detained after forced plane landing

Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevic said there was no use in the opposition calling for street protests. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, detained last month after his flight that was forced to land in Minsk, said in questioning aired on state television on Wednesday (June 2) that there was no use in the opposition calling for street protests.

In his second appearance since his Ryanair plane was forced to land in Belarus by the authorities on May 23, Mr Protasevich appeared relaxed, smoking as he spoke about the opposition with an unidentified interlocutor.

"These is simply no (protest) activity right now," the 26-year-old said in the broadcast that repeated the Belarusian claim that the plane had to be diverted after a bomb threat from Hamas. The Palestinian group has denied any involvement.

"There can't be any such activity right now," Mr Protasevich said. "When I was in Vilnius, I said openly that street protests weren't needed. At the very least we have to wait for the economic situation to heat up for people to take to the streets for a bowl of soup."

The Belarusian opposition did not immediately comment on Mr Protasevich's questioning. The opposition has said a video confession made last month by Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, Mr Protasevich's girlfriend who was also detained after the forced landing, appeared coerced.

Belarus has used video confessions that appear coerced to justify detentions and to attempt to dissuade the population from showing support for the opposition.

Western countries have condemned the government of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko over the forced landing of the aircraft, and many European Union countries have imposed air space restrictions on Belarusian national airline Belavia.

Some countries have also imposed sanctions against Belarusian officials over a crackdown on demonstrators and a presidential election last year that the opposition said was massively rigged.

Exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Monday she believed Mr Protasevich had been beaten and tortured in prison. A lawyer who visited Mr Protasevich said he was fine.

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