Roman Protasevich, a detained journalist, appeared on Belarusian state television on Thursday, tearfully admitting to his part in anti-government rallies in an interview that the opposition said was conducted under duress.
In his third appearance since his Ryanair (RYA.I) airline was forced to land in Belarus on May 23, Protasevich acknowledged to attempting to destabilise President Alexander Lukashenko through “riots” and recanted previous criticism of the veteran leader.
“It’s painful to see ‘confessions’ of Raman Pratasevich. His parents believe he was tortured. This is not Raman I know,” said Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, on Thursday, using a different spelling of Protasevich’s name.
He “is the hostage of the regime, and we must make all possible to release him and the other 460 political prisoners,” he wrote on Twitter.
The opposition has said a video confession made last month by Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, Protasevich’s girlfriend who was also detained after the forced landing, appeared coerced.
Lukashenko’s office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the accusations.
Previously, authorities have said Protasevich is an extremist who has facilitated violence. They have maintained aired television confessions by members of the opposition were made voluntarily.
Protasevich said he was giving the interview of his own volition.
“I’m almost certain they will condemn me publicly, and rallies in support of me will come to naught,” Protasevich said of his former associates. “But I don’t care what they will be saying.”
“I immediately admitted my guilt in organising massive unauthorized actions,” Protasevich said.
“I criticized Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] a lot, but when I became more involved in political topics, I began to understand that he was doing the right thing and I certainly respect him,” he said in the 90-minute video.
Western nations and international rights organisations have lambasted Lukashenko for forcing the plane to land and have sanctioned Belarusian authorities for a crackdown on rallies following a disputed election last year.
Tsikhanouskaya stated on Monday that she felt Protasevich was tortured and beaten in prison. Protasevich was OK, according to a lawyer who visited him.