Televised Confession of Detained Belarus Activist Was Coerced, Family Says

MOSCOW — Straight from jail and with bruises on his wrists, Roman Protasevich, the Belarusian opposition activist arrested final month, appeared on state tv on Thursday and confessed to having organized antigovernment protests — an interview that his household and supporters mentioned had been made below duress.

A tearful Mr. Protasevich appeared anxious and exhausted within the interview, which was carried out by the pinnacle of a Belarusian state tv station. He mentioned he “undoubtedly” revered the nation’s strongman chief, Aleskandr G. Lukashenko, earlier than lavishing reward on him.

Just final month, Mr. Protasevich described the chief as “a dictator” and in contrast him to Hitler.

Mr. Protasevich, the previous editor of NEXTA, an opposition Telegram channel, has been held for practically two weeks in Belarusian prisons after the industrial flight he was touring on was compelled to land in Minsk.

Mr. Lukashenko scrambled a fighter jet to intercept the flight — a transfer that the worldwide group and leaders throughout Europe condemned — and Mr. Protasevich and his girlfriend have been spirited away by safety forces upon touchdown.

European leaders additionally condemned Mr. Protasevich’s interview. A spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany known as the confession “completely unworthy and implausible,” and Britain’s overseas minister, Dominic Raab, mentioned on Twitter that “those involved in the filming, coercion and direction of the interview must be held accountable.”

Mr. Protasevich additionally mentioned within the interview he had organizing mass unauthorized rallies, a cost that carries as much as three years in jail. He mentioned that he had voluntarily determined to present the interview, and that no make-up had been utilized to cover any traces of torture.

His obvious confession, which some observers likened to Stalin’s present trials of the 1930s, described the Belarusian opposition as worms dwelling luxurious existence in Lithuania and Poland on these international locations’ payroll. He additionally described his opposition colleagues as accomplices in his crimes and offered particular names.

Mr. Protasevich’s turnaround just isn’t uncommon in Mr. Lukashenko’s Belarus. Several opposition activists and media figures have made comparable abrupt turns of their public statements after time spent in Belarusian prisons. Yuri Voskresensky, a former political prisoner, described his personal detention as “hell.”

Speaking with TV Rain, an impartial Russian tv station, Mr. Protasevich’s father, Dmitri Protasevich, known as the interview “a propaganda video.”

“It is very hard for him to say these things, and I am sure he was coerced and intimidated to do so,” he mentioned. “He has been under pressure for more than a week.”

Dmitri Protasevich mentioned that the Belarusian regulation enforcement may additionally apply stress on his son by means of his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who can also be being held in a jail run by the Ok.G.B., the home safety service.

“She might be held in the cell next to him,” he mentioned.

The situations inside such prisons are bleak, former detainees say. Yegor Dudnikov, a Russian citizen, was detained by the Belarusian regulation enforcement in early May and has since been held within the Ok.G.B. jail. In a letter to his lawyer, he described having been subjected to beatings and torture so as to immediate a confession.

Mr. Dudnikov, who mentioned he was a technical specialist who helped opposition activists with movies, described having been coerced to make an announcement to the state-run tv channel that interviewed Mr. Protasevich.

“On May 25, they brought me to a room where they gave me answers already prepared by the television crew,” he mentioned in a letter revealed by Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper. “They gave me time to learn them by heart — on May 28, television people came and made the recording.”