Belarus Grants Pardon To Roman Protasevich, Activist Detained During Controversial Flight Incident
RomanProtasevich, a prominent Belarusian opposition activist who was arrested in May 2021 after his Ryanair flight was forcibly diverted to Minsk, has announced that he has been granted pardon. Belarus grants pardon to Roman Protasevichafter he had been detained on charges of inciting unrest and was recently sentenced to eight years in prison.
However, he expressed his gratitude towards authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko for the unexpected pardon, although doubts lingered regarding the circumstances surrounding his statement.
In a video released by the state newsagency Belta, Protasevich confirmed that he had signed the "appropriate documents" for his pardon.
I am incredibly grateful to the country and of course, to the president personally for such a decision.- Roman Protasevich, Belarusian Opposition Activist
The activist expressed his joy, calling the news "just great." When asked about his future plans, Protasevich mentioned the possibility of retreating to a peaceful rural setting for a few days to regain his composure and move forward.
Belarus pardons blogger hauled off flight
The treatment Protasevich received from the security services during his detention remains unclear. There are suspicions that he may have been coerced into making confessions and statements supportive of the regime during his time in custody.
Certain opponents of the Lukashenko regime have even accused him of collaborating with the authorities. As the former editor of the Nexta Telegram channel, based in Poland, Protasevich played a significant role in disseminating videos and information related to the mass protests against Lukashenko that erupted in 2020.
The charges leveled against Protasevich included organizing mass riots, advocating for sanctions against Belarus, leading an extremist group, and plotting to seize power. In May 2021, he and his then-girlfriend, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, were forcibly removed from their plane and arrested after it was diverted to Minsk by Belarusian air traffic control, citing a bomb threat. However, the couple insisted that the threat was fabricated.
Sapega, who was found guilty of inciting social enmity and discord, received a prison sentence of six years in May 2022. Despite her refusal to accept a pardon from Lukashenko in January, she has agreed to be extradited to Russia. Interestingly, Protasevich married another woman just a month before Sapega's sentencing.
The arrest of Protasevich and Sapega triggered international outrage and prompted the European Union to impose sanctions against Belarus and its leader, Alexander Lukashenko. Western countries vehemently accused Belarus of hijacking the Ryanair flight under the pretext of a bomb threat, viewing it as a brazen act of state-sponsored piracy.
The sudden pardon granted to Protasevich has left many perplexed, questioning whether his statement was made under duress or as a result of a deal struck behind closed doors. Concerns remain regarding the well-being of the activist and the potential repercussions he may face even after his release. The international community continues to closely monitor the situation in Belarus, emphasizing the need for respect of human rights, freedom of the press, and fair treatment of political dissidents.