‘I’ve been set up’ Belarusian state TV airs questioning of detained opposition journalist Roman Protasevich
On June 1, the state-owned Belarusian television channel ONT aired a one-hour documentary about the Ryanair flight that was diverted to Minsk on May 23. The “investigation” included footage of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who was arrested shortly after the plane was forced to land in Belarus, along with his girlfriend, Russian national Sofia Sapega. In the clips, Protasevich appears to be undergoing questioning, though the person he’s talking to is off camera and his tone is relaxed — as he talks about his arrest and the work of the Belarusian opposition, Protasevich smokes a cigarette and even makes jokes. Meduza sums up his comments, in a nutshell.
When the Ryanair plane began its descent into Minsk, I realized there was no use in continuing to panic. When we landed, there was a large number of people in “civilian clothing,” with reflective vests — I thought, look at the pomp they’re greeting me with! Initially, I thought they were journalists and that I would go down the stairs to the sound of cameras, like a famous person, though perhaps not along a red carpet. Then I saw special forces officers with weapons. Well, I thought, this is going to be great. I told Sonya [Sofia Sapega] that as soon as the plane lands, you need to tell someone about it immediately. On the shuttle bus to the airport I didn’t stand with her or talk to her, in the hopes that even if they arrested me, then perhaps they wouldn’t detain her and everything would be okay for her. The first thing I thought was that I’ve been set up. The only time I said where I was going and what flight I was on was 40 minutes before takeoff. I wrote about it in a work chat, where there's a person with whom I had a rather tense personal conflict, especially in the days beforehand. I don’t know if this situation is a continuation of that conflict. I never mentioned the flight anywhere, but as soon as I said it I immediately found myself in Minsk. This person has connections to the “cyber-partisans” [hackers], who were previously involved in false bomb threats. Conducting protests in Belarus is useless right now. I discussed this with my colleagues: there’s no street activity like there was before, and it’s not needed. We need to wait for the economic situation to heat up, so that people will take to the streets not for new elections, not against the violence of the security forces, but, to put it in crude terms, for a bowl of soup. In pre-trial detention we had macaroni with meat, it was perfectly edible. We have so much food in the cell that the guys are complaining that the meat is going to go bad.
You can watch the full ONT documentary about the forced landing of the Ryanair plane in Minsk, including the clips of Roman Protasevich, here. The above is a summary of Roman Protasevich’s comments and phrases in the first person aren’t necessarily verbatim quotes.
Translated by Eilish Hart
Cover photo: ONT TV Channel /YouTube