The father of the dissident journalist Roman Protasevich today warned that his son had been tortured and forced to confess by the authorities in Belarus after a video of the captured campaigner was posted online.
Dmitry Protasevich said the shape of his son’s nose had changed — indicating that it had been broken — and that much of his face was covered in powder in an apparent attempt to cover-up bruising.
He added that the Lithuanian-based blogger — who was seized when his Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus because of a supposed bomb threat — also appeared to be speaking differently and using words chosen for him in a further sign that he was under duress.
His father’s warning, which were echoed by opposition politicians and other activists, came as the European Union told member state flights not to cross Belarus air space in protest at the seizure of Mr Protasevich. Brussels also promised further sanctions and a ban on airlines from Belarus amid continuing international outrage at the arrest of the journalist, which has been denounced as an act of piracy.
At the same time, US President Joe Biden condemned the blogger’s capture as an “outrageous incident” and a “direct affront to international norms”. Mr Biden added that Belarus was guilty of “shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press” and that the US “condemns in the strongest possible terms” both the diversion of the plane and the removal and arrest of Mr Protasevich.
Much of the immediate attention, however, was on the video released of Mr Protasevich in which he is seen looking tense, with a mark on his forehead, apparently confessing to organising mass disturbances in Minsk last year in protest at the dictatorial rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Dmitry Protasevich said he believed the video was filmed using coercion and added: “It’s likely his nose is broken, because the shape of it has changed and there’s a lot of powder on it. All of the left side of his face has powder. It’s not his words, it’s not his intonation of speech. He is acting very reserved and you can see he is nervous… So I think he was forced.”
Mr Protasevich, 26, was taken into custody with his girlfriend Sofia Sapega after Belarus scrambled a fighter plane to intercept the Ryanair jet flying from Athens to Vilnius and divert it to Minsk on Sunday. The action followed claims of a bomb threat by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which it denied and which are widely regarded as fake.
Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the actions of the Belarus authorities were “without precedent” and that the attempt to explain away the forced landing as a response to a Hamas bomb threat was “totally incredible”. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, added that President Lukashenko and his regime would face “severe consequences” as she promised a range of new measures against the dictator and his allies.