Imprisoned blogger Roman Protasevich in a long interview on Belarusian TV said that he admired Alexander Lukashenko, sparking widespread criticism by several European countries, who accused the country's authorities of a major crackdown on opposition.
In the interview with the broadcaster ONT, which was aired on Thursday evening, the 26-year-old blogger admitted to having organized protests against the strongman ruler.
German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert described it as "a completely undignified and implausible confession interview" that was probably obtained under psychological and physical duress.
"Mr Protasevich's disturbing interview last night was clearly under duress and in detention," British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote on Twitter. "Those involved in the filming, coercion and direction of the interview must be held accountable," he said.
Protasevich and his girlfriend were arrested in Minsk a fortnight ago after Lukashenko forced a passenger plane to reroute and land in the Belarusian capital.
The incident - involving a Ryanair commercial flight between the two EU capitals of Athens and Vilnius – has intensified the conflict between the former Soviet republic and the West.
The EU and the U.S. imposed fresh sanctions on Belarus as a result; some sanctions had already been in place since elections last year that have been discredited by many countries. Moscow has however stood by Minsk in the dispute.
Protasevich's mother Natalia Protasevich, who lives in Poland, described the interview on Friday as the result of torture in prison. "I can't even imagine the torture methods - both psychological and physical - that my son is being subjected to at the moment," the 46-year-old told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa).
"You probably can't suffer a greater torture as a mother." She pointed to her son's wrists which she said showed dark spots and inflammation. The blogger's mother called for independent doctors to be allowed to examine her son. "They should also do blood analysis of what he is being injected with." Protasevich's lawyer had been denied access to him this week, she said. Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, referring to the interview, said Protasevich was surely tortured and the international community should not pay heed to such extorted statements.
"All such videos are done under pressure," Tikhanovskaya said at a press conference in Warsaw on Friday. "(Through using violence) you can make a person say whatever you want."
When a person is in a political prison, the aim is to survive: "We don't have to pay attention" to such statements, the Belarusian opposition leader said. In the one-and-a-half-hour conversation, Protasevich also made accusations against other members of the Belarusian opposition, sometimes in a trembling voice.
The EU is to seal off its skies and runways to Belarusian airlines as of Saturday in response to the forced diversion of Protasevich's flight. EU ambassadors kicked off the necessary written legal procedure to implement the move on Friday, diplomatic sources told dpa, with completion considered a formality.
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