How Roman Protasevich became one of Lukashenko’s expensive targets

Roman Protasichich’s involvement in the anti-Lukashenko movement began years before last summer’s mass protests over Belarus’s decision to take power after the disputed election.

Frank Viakorka, an aide to Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Sviatlana ik Ikhanuskaya, first clashed with the 26-year-old activist in 2011, shortly before he became the focus of a dramatic deviation from Ryanair last weekend. At the time, Protasich was just a freshman in anti-regime protests.

In the following years, however, Protasich became a prominent opposition figure, working for various media outlets in his homeland, including Radio Free Europe, to become an editor. Next:, One of the main independent news groups in Belarus.

“Ten Belarusian activists realized ten years ago that activism is not enough to win, that you can do much more in journalism. At the same time, journalism cannot win alone. And this hybrid type of media activist appeared, “Roman was one of them,” said Viakorka.

“She is impulsive. He is creative. “He cannot accept injustice,” he added.

Protasich now finds himself at the center of a global diplomatic dispute in which Belarus opposes the EU, Britain and the United States after a plane landed in Vilnius, Athens, on Sunday and was diverted to Belarusian airspace by Mr Lukashenko. The activist was arrested as soon as the plane landed in Minsk.

“It seems [Belarus’s KGB] “They were chasing me at the airport,” he told his friends before leaving. “In any case, a dubious disgrace.”

The wiretapping that was planned international condemnation և notes the deteriorating relations between the Belarusian regime and the West, and stressed the length of time that Lukashenko is prepared to silence his critics as he tries to regain control amid the huge protests that took place last year.

Leaving Belarus in 2019, Protasich, now living in Vilnius, became a Belarusian terrorist observer in November and was charged with three counts of protesting, the most serious of which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

The Belarusian security services have been instructed to “pursue the main heroes of the anti-government protests” in any way possible, said Dzianis Melyantsu, an expert at the Minsk Council on Foreign Relations.

“The goal is quite obvious. “To show that moving forward, if you value your life, there is nothing else you can do in Belarus,” he said.

It was in Nexta that Protasich’s twin roles as an activist-journalist reached their widest audience. As Lukashenko stepped up his crackdown on protests against him last summer, Nexta channels, which were few and far between to avoid internet disruptions, became the main source of information about what was really going on. Nexta Telegram channels have more than 1.2 million subscribers in a country with a population of 9.4 million.

“My son was always someone who had a strong reaction against lies. That’s why he became a journalist, “his father, Dmitry Protasevich, told FT. “The problem is that the authorities are afraid of the freedom of even the slightest word, criticism or independent media outlets that tell the truth.”

Nexta simply did not report any complaints. It helped them coordinate, providing the demonstrators with everything from where to gather, what to wear, and how to avoid security forces. As editor-in-chief, Protasich was at the heart of this activity. This was told to FT by Nexta founder Sciapan Puzila.

“Now the regime is taking revenge,” Puzzila said.

In recent months, Belarussian authorities have stepped up their crackdown on journalists, regardless of the publication, which has readers outside the urban middle class, which is at the heart of the protests.

Last week, Belarus shut down, the most popular independent news site, and accused և 15 workers of tax evasion. A number of local newspapers were banned from publishing print copies in order to gain access to Lukashenko’s historical support base for the Belarusian working class.

Protasich probably became a bigger target after he left Nexta in September last year in an attempt to reach those rural Belarusians, Igor Trushkich, a Belarusian dissident living in exile in Ukraine, told FT. Protasich then headed Belamova, another opposition news channel with the Telegram messaging app, with 260,000 subscribers.

The Lukashenko regime made it clear that it had become a target of dissidents abroad in April, when Russia’s AD B, the legal successor to the Soviet KGB, arrested two opposition figures in Moscow and handed them over to Belarus.

Then a high-ranking Belarusian official promised to “find and clean up” dissidents abroad. “We remind the bloodthirsty opposition out of our control that we all know,” said Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Karpenkov. “We know where they are, who they are talking to, where their home is, where their families are.” He added. “Let them know that revenge is inevitable.”

Protasich’s arrest has caused concern among the Belarusian opposition in exile, especially as ik ikhanuskaya որոշ some of his teams crossed the same air route from Athens to their base in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, a week ago.

“It’s shocking, it’s devastating, it changes a lot. “It mobilizes the international community, but I’m afraid the international community will forget about it tomorrow,” Viakorka said.

“If the Europeans do not want North Korea to be in the center of Europe, if they do not want to shoot down planes, they have to respond. “It is no longer a matter of Belarusian domestic policy, but now a matter of European security.”

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