Opposition figure Protasevich abducted by Belarus

Concerned about the interception of a passenger plane carrying opposition figure Protasevich by military planes ordered by Belarusian President Lukashenko on Sunday, Le Monde writes that the 26-year-old opposition figure is likely to face the death penalty.

“I was identified as a terrorist. Yes, this is not a joke. The KGB in Belarus put me on the list of terrorists. Now my name is on the same list as a member of the extremist Islamic terrorist group Islamic State. ” Roman Protasevich had been in exile between Poland and Lithuania for a year when he posted the testifying news on his Twitter account on November 19, 2020.

Belarusian opposition figure Protasevich, 26, who was editor-in-chief of the influential opposition platform Nexta, was sought by the regime of current Belarusian President Lukashenko, writes Le Monde journalist Faustine Vincent in a May 26 article. President Lukashenko is running for re-election in the highly contested August 9, 2020 elections, which have sparked unprecedented popular protests and demonstrations in Belarus.

The then Nexta channel, which began broadcasting from Warsaw in the fall of 2020 and delivered messages via encrypted means using the application Telegram, became an important tool for the protesters at the time, who used it extensively to organize demonstrations against the government and post images of the protests. At the height of the campaign against the Lukashenko authorities, 2 million of the country’s 9.5 million residents used the platform every day. The Nexta team received more than 10,000 messages per hour, many of them from within the regime.

Dark times

Protasevich told the British daily newspaper The Independent in August 2020 that we realize this is our time, that those who could potentially lead the protests are in prison or under surveillance, and that now is the time to get involved. Protasevich had believed Lukashenko would be overthrown “within weeks,” but nine months later, President Lukashenko, who has taken orders from the former Soviet republic since 1994, is still there, and his opposition is being suppressed.

A Belarusian passenger who was on the same flight as Protasevich on Wednesday, May 23, said that when the hijacked plane landed in Minsk, Protasevich immediately understood that he was panicking at first and then calmly told everyone that he could be sentenced to death.

Born on May 5, 1995, Protasevich has opposed Lukashenko, who was in power since he was a teenager, and participated in a protest march in 2010 when thousands of Belarusians took to the streets to oppose Lukashenko’s re-election, followed by a brutal government crackdown.

Young opponents

Protasevich was just a high school student when he was arrested and beaten by plainclothes police in September 2012, at the age of 17, during protests that sparked a new crackdown in Belarus following parliamentary elections. Protasevich told AFP that the police beat me on my kidneys and liver, then I had bleeding urine for three days, and they threatened to kill me.

During the interrogation, police asked him for passwords to online platforms, one of the two social networks Protasevich operated calling for a boycott of legislative elections and said he was tired of Lukashenko’s rule. Protasevich was released as a minor a few hours after being interrogated.

After Protasevich was arrested and released in 2012, he worked as a photographer for various Belarusian media outlets and received a Vaclav Havel fellowship for independent journalism in 2017. Protasevich has been serving as editor-in-chief of the BGM channel, which has 26,000 subscribers.

On Monday night, the young opposition figure appeared on a video on Belarusian public television, saying that in the First Detention Center in Minsk, the staff treated me in an appropriate manner and obeyed the law. I continue to cooperate with investigators and confess my guilt for having organized mass unrest. He spoke with a serious expression for the cameras.

Another denounced the opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya as propaganda of the Belarusian regime, and the former presidential candidate in exile in Lithuania called for the immediate release of Protasevich and all other political prisoners.

Belarusian justice has charged Protacevich with organizing “mass riots” and with “serious breach of public order” and “incitement to social hatred” that could result in a 15-year prison sentence. If he is convicted of terrorist charges, he faces the death penalty in Belarus, the last country in Europe to impose it.