European Union leaders have agreed on a set of sanctions against Belarus, including a ban on the use of the 27-nation bloc’s airspace and airports amid fury for the forced diversion of a passenger jet flying between two EU countries in order to arrest an opposition journalist.
In what EU leaders have called a brazen “hijacking” of Irish carrier Ryanair’s plane flying from Greece to Lithuania on Sunday, they demanded on Monday the immediate release of Roman Protasevich, a key critic of authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The EU leaders also decided to slap individual sanction of officials linked to the operation, and called on the International Civil Aviation Organization to start an investigation into what they see as an unprecedented move and what some have called “state terrorism”.
The decisions at the summit will be turned into action as soon as legal proceedings allow.
In a video released earlier on Monday, Protasevich said he is cooperating with authorities and “confessing” to charges of organising protests.
Speaking in a video circulated by state TV channels, Protasevich said, “I am in Detention Centre no 1 in Minsk. I can say that I have no health problems, including with my heart or any other organs.”
The 26-year-old is wearing a black hoodie and sits behind a table in a nondescript room with a pack of cigarettes by his side.
He fidgets with his hands as he makes the statement and some dark marks are visible on his forehead.
“The attitude of employees towards me is as correct as possible and according to the law. I continue cooperating with investigators and am confessing to having organised mass unrest in the city of Minsk,” he said.
The comments were immediately dismissed by his allies as having been made under duress.
“This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure. I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners,” a leader of Belarusian opposition, Sviatlana Thiskanouskaya, wrote on Twitter in English, using the Belarusian spelling of his name.”