Belarus: Free journalist detained following forced emergency landing in Minsk

Amnesty International is launching an Urgent Action following the televised self-incriminating statement by Raman Pratasevich, co-founder and former editor of the NEXTA Telegram-channel, in which he appears distraught and injured. He was detained in Minsk airport together with his partner Sofia Sapega, after the Belarusian authorities forced their flight from Athens to Vilnius to land, for the apparent sole purpose of his arrest. Both remain at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.

“We call on our supporters worldwide to join the Urgent Action demanding the immediate release of Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega. Their arrest is arbitrary and unlawful, and its circumstances are nothing short of horrifying. We feared from the onset that they may be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment. Now Belarusian state media have released video footage showing Raman “confessing” to nothing more than having been involved with the organization of protests, and we are concerned that this “confession” may have been obtained under duress,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In a video broadcast on state-run Belarusian media on 24 May, Raman Pratasevich is shown saying that he is “cooperating with the investigators” and “confessing to organizing mass disorders in the city of Minsk”. He has visible bruises on his face yet states that he is being treated “in a correct and lawful way” by the authorities.

“Do the Belarusian authorities truly believe that they can fool the world by televising a prisoner’s forced ‘confession’ and have him state that he is being treated well?”, said Marie Struthers.

Do the Belarusian authorities truly believe that they can fool the world by televising a prisoner’s forced ‘confession’ and have him state that he is being treated well?
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

“Given the patterns of human rights violations of the Belarusian secret services, we are seriously concerned that the health and life of Raman Pratasevich is in danger. We believe that his partner Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen, is being detained only to exert further pressure on Raman.”

Following nationwide protests against the widely-contested official presidential election results of August 2020, Raman Pratasevich was charged in November 2020 with "organization of mass disorder", "organization of group actions that severely violate public order" and "inciting hatred towards social groups" in relation to police officers and government officials. On 19 November 2020, he became the first Belarusian citizen to be included on the country's official "list of terrorists".

Background

On 23 May, Raman Pratasevich, 26, who until September 2020 led the biggest Belarusian opposition Telegram channels NEXTA and NEXTA Live, and his partner Sofia Sapega, 23, were detained at Minsk airport after their Lithuania-bound flight made an emergency landing following a purported bomb threat which was subsequently reported as unsubstantiated. A MiG-29 fighter jet belonging to the Belarusian Air Force escorted the civilian plane to an airfield in Minsk.

Raman Pratasevich and NEXTA co-founder Stsyapan Putsila were arbitrarily added to Belarus's list of “individuals involved in terrorist activity” in November 2020, solely for their journalistic work. The two were also charged with “incitement of mass riots”, “gross violation of public order” and “incitement of social hatred” against public officials and law enforcement agents. These crimes carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison. The reason for the detention of Sofia Sapega has not yet been officially disclosed.