Jailed Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich appeared at a news conference in Minsk on Monday saying he felt fine and had not been beaten, in what the opposition said was another public appearance made under duress.
Protasevich sat alongside four officials, two of whom were in uniform, saying he had not been made to cooperate with the authorities and that he was in good health after being arrested last month when his Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk.
“Everything is fine with me. Nobody beat me, nobody touched me,” he said. “I understand the damage I have caused not only to the state, but also to the country. Now I want to do everything in my power to rectify this situation.”
Protasevich has made several appearances since his plane was forced to land in Minsk while on a May 23 flight from Greece to Lithuania via Belarusian air space. He has admitted to plotting to topple President Alexander Lukashenko by organising “riots” and recanted earlier criticism of the veteran leader.
“No matter what he says, let’s not forget: he is a hostage. And the regime is using him as a trophy,” Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to exiled Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, wrote on Twitter.
“This is not a press conference but a scene of either Kafka or Orwell.”
Belarus of the Brain, the blogging outlet that Protasevich ran before his arrest, said his latest appearance was made under duress and showed the “strongest psychological pressure” being exerted on the 26-year-old.
Previously, authorities said Protasevich is an extremist who has facilitated violence. They have maintained that televised confessions by members of the opposition were made voluntarily.
Protasevich’s arrest and the forced diversion of the Ryanair plane sparked uproar in the West, feeding calls for tougher sanctions to be put on Lukashenko’s government.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko launched a violent crackdown on mass protests after winning a sixth term in an election last year that his opponents say was blatantly rigged. He denies electoral fraud.