WARSAW • Hundreds of people in Warsaw have rallied in support of the Belarusian opposition, days after the regime in Minsk diverted a European passenger plane and arrested a dissident journalist on board.
Among those present last Saturday were the Poland-based parents of the detained journalist, 26-year-old Roman Protasevich.
"I'm calling on all European Union countries and the United States to please help us free Roman and (his girlfriend) Sofia, as well as everyone else imprisoned," his mother Natalia Protasevich said.
His father Dmitry added: "We want to live in a free country, in a country where everyone has the right to express his beliefs."
The crowd chanted "Long Live Belarus" and held up the opposition's red and white flag as well as signs with slogans such as "Help Belarus", "Freedom for Belarus" and "North Korea in the Middle of Europe".
Mr Protasevich and Ms Sofia Sapega, 23, were arrested on May 23 after Belarus scrambled a military jet to divert the Ryanair plane they were on.
Mr Protasevich's parents said their son looked like he had been beaten in a video later released by the Belarusian authorities. The forced landing triggered a global outcry, but a defiant President Alexander Lukashenko said he had "acted lawfully to protect our people" from an alleged bomb threat on the plane.
The EU has banned Belarusian airlines, urged EU airlines not to cross Belarusian airspace and threatened tough economic sanctions against Mr Lukashenko's Kremlin-backed regime.
"Things look really bad now. That's why we need to do something, show those fighting back home that they're not alone," said Ms Natallia Burak, a 35-year-old Belarusian living in Warsaw.
Often dubbed "Europe's last dictator", Mr Lukashenko has retained his nearly three-decade-long grip on power by hounding opponents, jailing and allegedly torturing dissidents, and muzzling independent media. His opponents say last year's election was rigged and that political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who ran in place of her jailed husband, was the true winner.