Roman Protasevich does not appear to be a major threat to Europe’s last dictator. A 26-year-old freshman, he has never been elected to public office nor has he stood as a candidate.
What is this blogger and co-recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought Have doneHowever, it is considered equally dangerous by the rule of Alexander Lukashenko. He has helped ensure that the world knows about the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.
Belarusian journalists and activists were on their way back home to Lithuania during their Ryanair flight Diverted from its route Under the pretext of security alerts and military aircraft “escorted” to Minsk Airport. It was clear that Protasevich was the target of the operation, when police arrested him, along with his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, a law student, before being allowed to resume the flight.
NEXTA, the channel on the social media platform Telegram, which was co-founded and previously edited by Protasevich, has become one of them The main equipment in the Belarusian resistance movement It has developed since last summer’s disputed presidential elections in which Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory. The pro-democracy campaigners use this channel to inform supporters about the details of the protests, as well as to publicize reports and images of brutal attacks on protesters by security services.
In Belarus, government control over digital and traditional media is becoming increasingly tight. Last week Minsk blocked Independent news website tut.by, the country’s most popular non-state media outlet. on Monday More restrictions on journalists Was announced, including a ban on live coverage of disapproved protests and a ban on organizing or participating in “mass events” that they report.
The fact that Nexta has offices in Poland means that Minsk has so far been unable to close it. But as Protasevich discovered on Sunday, Lukashenko’s regime is ready for it Break international agreement So as to catch, punish and silence those who defy him. There are genuine questions about the safety of prominent Belarusian opposition celebrities living in exile – notably Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the woman widely regarded as the de facto winner of the August 2020 presidential election.
One of his strategies is to meet with world leaders to put the pro-democracy movement on the international agenda and to push for further measures against Lukashenko. Protasevich’s arrest makes it clear that travel, even among democratic countries, is a considerable risk for all Belarusian opposition figures. His manner of detention serves as a stern warning that there is no safe haven for Lukashenko’s opponents.
When it became clear that Ryanair’s flight was going to land in Belarus, Protasevich allegedly turned to a fellow passenger and remarked that It will end in its execution. He was not exaggerating. His name is a. Is placed on List of terrorists The punishment is death by state security forces, and for terrorist offenses in Belarus.
The Belarusian prison is a dangerous place for anyone arrested for political crimes, regardless of official charges. Protesters who spend time in custody have been subjected to Serious physical abuse including torture and rape. Others die in suspicious circumstances.
Just last week, Witold Ashuraki, A member of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, is reported to have suffered a fatal heart attack while serving a five-year prison sentence for participating in the protests.
An alarming report of Protasevich’s situation began to appear just hours after his detention. Journalist’s mother incoming message That his son was hospitalized due to heart disease. His medical history lent some credibility to these messages.
Although by monday evening A short video recording of Protasevich A pro-regime surfaced on the Telegram channel. Stressed and sporting what looked like bruises on his face, the journalist denied any treatment or health problems and claimed to cooperate with authorities, including organizing “mass riots” in Minsk Confession was also included.
Also featured in Tikhanovskaya A “Mortgage-Type” Video Making a similar unsubstantiated confession shortly before fleeing Belarus in August 2020. She Later confirmed That her performance was forced using threats to her family.
Attention has clearly changed Measures that the European Union and others can take against Lukashenko, But it is also important to pay attention to what this latest episode reveals about politics in Belarus.
While it may appear that Lukashenko has all the cards, the extent to which the regime is willing to go to attack its critics is a sign of fragility rather than strength. A political leader who is completely in control of society does not need to arrest citizens Wearing the wrong color socks, Except for hijacking a plane to kidnap a young blogger. The regime’s insistence on affirming every expression of disagreement, however small it may be, only matches the determination and flexibility of the common people, Continue to make fun of him and ignore him.
Although repression and violence have so far enabled Lukashenko to cling to power, Cracks reportedly erupting Which is their ultimate tool against the opposition within the security forces. It is becoming increasingly clear that this regime has little left to offer that its constituents find attractive.