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Roman Protasevich, Jailed Belarusian Activist, Claims to Have Renounced His Views

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MOSCOW — Roman Protasevich, the jailed Belarusian political activist, said at a news conference in Minsk on Monday that he had not been coerced into reversing his stance as a dissident and praised the country’s strongman leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

Mr. Protasevich, who was dragged off a grounded Ryanair flight along with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, three weeks ago by Belarusian security agents, arrested and thrown in jail, made the comments after walking into a room packed with reporters. His appearance had not been announced beforehand.

“I understand what kind of damage I have inflicted not only on the state, but on the country,” he said during the news conference, which was broadcast live. “Today, I want to do everything to correct this situation.”

Mr. Protasevich was paraded before reporters within days of his arrest and made a similar statement, though he was more obviously under duress and bruises were visible on his arms during that first appearance. Family members said the statement had been coerced.

While he appeared more relaxed on Monday, members of the Belarusian opposition and reporters said Mr. Protasevich’s appearance was made under duress. Journalists from the BBC walked out in protest.

“No matter what he says, let’s not forget, he is a hostage,” Franak Viacorka, a prominent opposition activist who is now living in exile, wrote on his Twitter account. “This is not a news conference but a scene of either Kafka or Orwell.”

Only a few weeks ago, Mr. Protasevich, the 26-year-old dissident journalist and former editor of NEXTA, an opposition site on the social network Telegram, described the Belarusian strongman leader as “a dictator” and compared him to Hitler.

During the news conference, Mr. Protasevich firmly denied that he was being pressured to make public appearances and renounce his earlier dissident activities. He said he feels “wonderful,” and that he hopes to “help his country in the future.”

Mr. Protasevich’s abrupt change of view is not unusual in Mr. Lukashenko’s Belarus. Several opposition activists and media figures have made similar reversals in their public statements after spending time in Belarusian prisons.

Yuri Voskresensky, a former political prisoner, described his own detention as “hell” and became an avid supporter of Mr. Lukashenko upon his release. Some observers have likened these acts of self-flagellation, including Mr. Protasevich’s, to Stalinist show trials.



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