Health Management

With Pardon of Roman Protasevich, Belarus Fuels a Tale of Betrayal


When the Belarusian dictator Aleksandr G. Lukashenko despatched a MIG fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair passenger airplane carrying an exiled antigovernment activist and his girlfriend two years in the past, he turned the younger dissident right into a martyr of the wrestle for democracy.

The airplane, flying from Greece to Lithuania, was forced to land in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, after the authorities there claimed falsely that there was a bomb on board. The episode stirred international outrage and put an admiring highlight on the Belarusian activist, Roman Protasevich, now 28, and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, 25.

This week, Mr. Lukashenko rewrote the script, turning what had been a narrative of democratic ardor and younger love thwarted by tyranny right into a darkish story of political and romantic betrayal.

Arrested together with Ms. Sapega in Could 2021 at Minsk airport, Mr. Protasevich received a rare pardon on Monday from a authorities not recognized for its mercy. A video released by the state media confirmed him standing in a leafy park as he expressed thanks for the “nice information” and declared himself “insanely grateful” to Mr. Lukashenko, whom he as soon as in comparison with Hitler.

He had beforehand dumped Ms. Sapega to marry one other girl, posting {a photograph} on-line final 12 months of himself kissing his unidentified new bride. How he met her whereas nonetheless within the clutches of a Belarusian safety equipment that retains a lot of its prisoners in solitary confinement has by no means been defined.

With every thing that Mr. Protasevich has stated or performed publicly since his arrest two years in the past filtered by means of Belarus’ state media and supervised by safety officers, it can’t be established with certainty whether or not he has actually modified sides. Nor, if he did, what stress he endured whereas in detention from a regime that has lengthy tortured political prisoners.

However there’s a huge consensus amongst fellow opposition activists that Mr. Protasevich has turned against them.

“Please don’t reward him as a freedom fighter. He’s a really darkish determine on this entire story,” Andrei Sannikov, an exiled opposition chief, stated by phone. “We don’t wish to hear his title ever once more. He betrayed his girlfriend. He betrayed his buddies and colleagues. He betrayed the entire democratic motion.”

Franak Viacorka, the chief of employees to the exiled Belarusian opposition chief Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, accused Mr. Protasevich of securing his pardon by collaborating with Belarus’ fearsome secret police company, which has clung to its Soviet-era title, the Ok.G.B.

Mr. Protasevich’s transition from martyred pro-democracy hero to extensively reviled collaborator is “a vital story which teaches us how merciless regimes like Lukashenko’s are,” Mr. Viacorka stated in a press release to The New York Instances.

“We have no idea what torture they used towards him. We noticed him on TV — he was simply destroyed. He regarded very depressing, sick, overwhelmed, and he shouldn’t have been there.”

Earlier than his arrest, Mr. Protasevich labored from exile in Lithuania and Poland because the editor of Nexta, a channel on the Telegram messaging app that performed an vital position in organizing huge street protests that swept throughout Belarus in 2020 after Mr. Lukashenko claimed an implausible landslide victory, his sixth, in a presidential election extensively seen as rigged.

Dealing with a potential dying sentence for treason, Mr. Protasevich rapidly dropped his anti-Lukashenko fervor after his 2021 arrest.

He appeared on Belarusian state tv in June that year with bruises on his wrists and what regarded like a bruise on his head, confessing to having organized antigovernment protests and urging a “impartial place” towards Mr. Lukashenko. His household, supporters and Western officers stated on the time that he had made the remarks below duress.

Mr. Viacorka stated this week that whereas he felt some sympathy for Mr. Protasevich, “I have no idea if I will forgive” him as a result of “in the event you collaborate you set dozens or maybe lots of of individuals in peril.”

However he cautioned towards judging Mr. Protasevich too harshly. “I have no idea how I’d behave personally in such a state of affairs,” he stated, “We must be very cautious once we assess the conduct of 1 or one other individual.”

Doubts about Mr. Protasevich have been rising for months, significantly since information emerged final 12 months that he had been launched from a grim pretrial detention middle into home arrest whereas Ms. Sapega, his girlfriend, had acquired a six-year jail sentence.

In a chilly response to Ms. Sapega’s jailing in Could 2022, Mr. Protasevich appeared to throw his former associate below the bus, stating in a blog post that she had been “convicted of her actual actions and never for being in a relationship with me.” Six years in jail, he stated, was “removed from probably the most horrible sentence potential.”

Anyway, he added, he had already cut up up with Ms. Sapega and married an unnamed native girl. He posted a coloration {photograph} of himself along with his new bride, who was in a vivid yellow costume. Her face had been blurred to obscure her identification. She held a bouquet of pink roses.

Whereas Ms. Sapega has been held incommunicado because the Ryanair airplane landed in Minsk in 2021, Mr. Protasevich has been allowed to talk publicly at common intervals, normally at tightly scripted occasions in Minsk below the attention of safety officers, and thru the state information media.

In June final 12 months, shortly after the jailing of Ms. Sapega, he informed Belta, the official information company, that detention in Belarus was now “the most secure place for me” as a result of “many individuals think about me a traitor,” although he has denied betraying any of his former colleagues.

Belta stated he had “made an knowledgeable choice to cooperate with the investigation.”

Household and buddies stated that Mr. Protasevich’s early appearances in Minsk instructed that he been overwhelmed. However he later appeared in public wanting relaxed and unscathed. He struck an more and more pro-government tone as he renounced his views and began criticizing Mr. Lukashenko’s foes.

A Belarusian courtroom in Could sentenced Mr. Protasevich to eight years in prison for crimes together with acts of terrorism and insulting the president however the pardon introduced on Monday instructed that he would spend no additional time behind bars.

Sergei Bespalov, a Belarusian opposition activist and blogger, claimed after Mr. Protasevich’s sentencing in Could that “tens of individuals have been jailed due to his actions.” He added in a video: “He merely gave them up.”

This display seize from a video made accessible by the “Zheltye Slivy” Telegram channel, is alleged to indicate Ms. Sapega testifying to the police in Minsk in 2021.Credit score…Agence France-Presse, through Telegram Channel Nevolf

Mr. Sannikov, the chief of the European Belarus Civil Marketing campaign, an opposition group run from Poland, and a former political prisoner in Mr. Lukashenko’s jails, stated the comparatively lenient remedy of Mr. Protasevich in contrast with that of his former girlfriend had confirmed suspicions lengthy held by some opposition activists.

“He was a stooge from the start,” Mr. Sannikov stated. “We by no means trusted him. I informed buddies to not have any dealings with him.”

Nexta, the opposition Telegram channel Mr. Protasevich edited, he stated, usually “gave blended instructions” to Minsk protesters and “made individuals run across the metropolis with none objective.” Nexta at the moment additionally printed demonstrably false data that the Belarusian authorities exploited to attempt to discredit the opposition.

Exiled political teams usually fall into infighting and mutual finger-pointing, a phenomenon that Mr. Lukashenko has inspired by sending brokers to infiltrate and disrupt the actions of opponents exterior Belarus. His critics contained in the nation have practically all been arrested and given harsh sentences.

Maria Kolesnikova, a fierce opponent of Mr. Lukashenko who refused to enter exile, was jailed for 11 years in September 2021 after a closed trial. The crackdown on dissent continued this 12 months when Ales Bialiatski, 60, a veteran activist who shared last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, acquired a 10-year sentence.

Mr. Protasevich’s pardon, Mr. Viacorka stated, is a part of an extended and soiled sport by the Belarusian authorities to crush the opposition — by means of brute power at dwelling and extra devious strategies overseas. Based on Viasna, a group that monitors repression in Belarus, the nation at present has 1,525 political prisoners.

“Within the eyes of Lukashenko, Roman grew to become loyal, obedient, and he needed each political prisoner to behave like Roman,” Mr. Viacorka stated, “Principally, Roman humiliated himself publicly and that is what Lukashenko needed” as a lesson to different exiled opposition figures like Ms. Tikhanovskaya.

For Mr. Sannikov, nevertheless, the entire episode carries one other lesson: “There are many people who find themselves praised who didn’t stay as much as expectations. Don’t create heroes. Simply be a good individual.”

Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting from Vilnius, Lithuania.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button