Boris Johnson warns Belarus over ‘deeply distressing’ video of detained journalist Roman Protasevich

Boris Johnson has warned the actions of Belarus will have consequences, after a video emerged of detained journalist Roman Protasevich appearing to admit organising anti-government protests.

The UK prime minister issued his warning after Mr Protasevich’s father said his son’s appearance in the video had only occurred as a result of coercion.

Mr Johnson, a former Daily Telegraph columnist, said on Twitter: “The video of Roman Protasevich makes for deeply distressing viewing.

“As a journalist and a passionate believer in freedom of speech I call for his immediate release.

“Belarus’ actions will have consequences.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would like to invite the country’s opposition to the next G7 summit in Cornwall in June, if Britain, which is hosting the event, agrees.

Belarus said on Tuesday it had invited European, US and international aviation officials to investigate the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Minsk on Sunday.

Belarus scrambled a fighter plane to escort a Ryanair passenger flight from Athens to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius carrying Mr Protasevich, a prominent critic of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Western powers have described the incident as “state piracy” and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg today described it as a “state hijacking”.

Belarusian planes could soon be banned from Europe, potentially isolating the country that is land-locked, but which also shares a border with Russia.

The video released overnight showed 26-year-old Mr Protasevich confessing to having organised anti-government
demonstrations.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who like Mr Protasevich says she has to live in exile due to the risks if she was to return to her homeland, said that the video left no doubt that the journalist had been “tortured”.

She told a news conference in Vilnius: “He said that he was treated lawfully, but he’s clearly beaten and under pressure. There is no doubt that he was tortured. He was taken hostage.”

Belarus has not commented on the torture allegation but Belarusian state media have reported that President Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered the flight to be intercepted.

Belarus claims it was responding to a bomb threat that later proved to be a false alarm.

A 23-year-old student travelling with Mr Protasevich was also arrested and Russia on Tuesday said that Sofia Sapega was the only Russian citizen on board the diverted flight who got off the plane in Minsk despite reports that four Russian nationals disembarked.

The three or more other people who left the flight in Minsk are assumed by Western countries to have been spies.

Lufthansa, KLM, SAS, Air France, Polish airline LOT, Finnair – and Singapore Airlines – are among carriers that have announced they would stop flying over Belarus after European Union leaders called for airlines based in the 27-member bloc to halt flights over Belarusian air space.

The EU leaders also directed officials to draw up new sanctions against Belarus, and to find out if it is possible to prevent Belarusian airlines using the bloc’s skies.

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