Roman Protasevich: Dissident Belarusian journalist appears to praise President Alexander Lukashenko in new video

·2-min read

Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich has been filmed appearing to praise Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in a new video.

In the clip, recorded for Belarusian state-controlled TV, Mr Protasevich was asked whether he respected the president, to which he replied: "Absolutely".

Mr Protasevich, 26, said Mr Lukashenko has "acted like a man with balls of steel", despite the "pressure" of resistance movements like his.

The journalist, who was arrested last month after the Ryanair flight he was on was diverted, did not appear to be in good health in the clip.

It comes after an earlier video for the state-controlled broadcaster saw him claim he was set up by an unidentified associate.

Commenting on that clip, one of Mr Protasevich's associates said he was clearly speaking under duress.

It is not clear when the more recent interview was filmed and under what conditions.

In it, he said: "I won't hide it, I criticised Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] a lot. Of course, because it seemed to be that there were reasons for it.

"I've been a journalist my whole life, but the more I was getting involved in political work, the more I wanted to run away from it.

"And then I started to realise that many things Alexander Grigoryevich is criticised for are just attempts to pressure him.

"And that in many moments he acted like a man with balls of steel, despite all the pressure and so on."

Mr Protasevich, who worked for Poland-based online news service NEXTA, was detained by authorities in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on 23 May.

There was international outrage when his Ryanair flight - from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania - was diverted to Belarus by air traffic controllers over claims of a bomb threat. There have been accusations it was a "state-sponsored hijacking" on the orders of Mr Lukashenko.

No bomb was found on board, but Mr Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.

Ms Sapega has since appeared in a video from prison where she confesses to running a channel that revealed personal data about Belarusian security officers.

Her boyfriend left Belarus in 2019 and has since become Mr Lukashenko's leading opponent.

As well as his work for the Polish news service, Mr Protasevich ran a popular channel on the messaging app Telegram that played a key role in organising anti-government protests last year.

He was then charged with inciting mass disturbances, which could carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation for more than 25 years, is often referred to as Europe's last dictator.

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