Hijacked Belarusian blogger goes on trial in Minsk

Hijacked Belarusian blogger goes on trial in Minsk
Опубликовано: Thursday, 16 February 2023 15:58

Roman Protasevich has pleaded guilty since being arrested by Belarusian authorities.


The opposition blogger arrested after Belarus illegally forced down his Ryanair flight went on trial in Minsk Thursday; he has already pleaded guilty.

Roman Protasevich was flying from Athens to Vilnius on May 23, 2021, when Belarusian air traffic control falsely told the Ryanair pilot that the plane faced a terrorist threat and made him land in Minsk. Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega, were taken off the plane and arrested.

State media were allowed to attend Thursday’s hearing, and they showed a neatly dressed Protasevich being led into the courtroom. He was not put in a cage, which is regular practice in other recent trials of Belarusian opposition leaders and civil activists.

“Morally, I’m prepared to face any outcome. Nothing depends on me here anymore,” Protasevich told journalists in the courtroom. Protasevich also said he “completely” agreed with all the accusations. Earlier, he officially pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Protasevich along with two other dissidents being tried in absentia are charged with what prosecutors say are 1,586 crimes, including organizing mass riots, inciting social hatred and insulting the country’s president. Protasevich faces up to 15 years in prison.

Protasevich, 27, was editor-in-chief of Nexta Live, one of the most popular channels on the Telegram social network, which opposes Belarusian authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

In 2020, Belarus was shaken by unprecedented street protests after a fraudulent presidential election that Lukashenko claimed to have won. Nexta Live not only covered the demonstrations, but also actively coordinated them.

Last year, a Belarusian court declared the channel a terrorist organization.

Since his arrest, Protasevich has appeared on televised talk shows and even participated in a media briefing during which he criticized opposition leaders and his former media colleagues. He claims to have done so voluntarily — although that cannot be verified.

His appearances have been criticized by the opposition.

“In the public opinion, I will never be a ‘good guy’ again. You know what the simple reason is? Because they didn’t put me away for 20 years at once. If I had gone to jail immediately and for a long time, if I told the authorities to go to hell, things would be different. This would make me a hero,” he wrote in his social media account last May in response.

Last year, Sapega, a Russian national, was sentenced by a Belarusian court to six years in prison for inciting social hatred. “I am sorry for Sofia and her family. No one should suffer from dictatorship,” opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter at the time.

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