A dissident Belarusian journalist who was grabbed off a Ryanair flight forced to land in Minsk has been released under house arrest.
The forced landing of the Athens-Vilinius flight has triggered harsh Western sanctions against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko who was re-elected president last year amid unprecedented anti-government protests.
Roman Protasevich, former editor-in-chief of the opposition mouthpiece Nexta, was arrested alongside his girlfriend last month after Belarusian authorities forced the plane to land, citing a bomb threat.
Mr Protasevich, who was living in exile in Lithuania, was wanted on charges of organising riots in Belarus.
Mr Protasevich has since appeared in a video and an interview with state television, “confessing” to having orchestrated riots in Minsk. His parents and rights activists believe that he had been tortured and forced to make those media appearances.
Mr Protasevich and Sofya Sapega, his partner, have now been placed under house arrest, their parents told local media on Friday
Franak Viacorka, adviser to the exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Mr Protasevich’s long-time friend, tweeted on Friday that the parents have no direct contact with Mr Protasevich and KGB agents are staying at the same place.
He described the couple’s release from the infamous prison in Minsk as a result of EU sanctions that earlier this week blacklisted dozens of officials and restricted imports of key Belarusian products to the EU such as petroleum.
“We should insist that all political prisoners (500 to 800 people) be released unconditionally and fully rehabilitated,” Mr Viacorka said.
The Lukashenko regime unleashed a staggering wave of repressions last year, putting hundreds in jail and bringing criminal charges against at least 2,300 people for peaceful protests.