The parents of Raman Pratasevich have pleaded for international help to free the Belarusian journalist as US president Joe Biden said sanctions against Alexander Lukashenko’s regime were “in play”, without revealing further details.
From their new home in Poland, Natalia Pratasevich, the blogger’s mother, told Agence France-Presse: “I’m asking, I’m begging, I’m calling on the whole international community to save him.
“He’s only one journalist, he’s only one child but please, please … I am begging for help. Please save him. They’re going to kill him in there.”
Her husband, Dmitry Pratasevich, a former soldier, said: “The lawyer tried to see him today but she was turned down, she could not see him. We still don’t know if he is in there, what his condition is, how he is feeling.
“One of the ways our authorities torture is by not telling relatives where their loved ones are being held until the last minute,” he said.
Pratasevich, 26, was detained after Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, personally authorised the forced downing of his Ryanair flight travelling between Greece and Lithuania. His Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, was also seized. Lukashenko is due to address Belarus’ parliament on Wednesday, the first such address since Sunday’s incident.
The forced landing has sparked global outcry and accusations of state terrorism, with EU leaders working on further sanctions, airlines avoiding Belarusian airspace, and Belarus’s opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya calling for an international meeting to discuss the situation.
Biden said on Tuesday that US sanctions against Belarus were in play, but declined to offer more details. “I don’t want to speculate until we get it done,” Biden said when asked what the US was considering in terms of a sanctions response.
On Tuesday evening, a video featuring Sapega was released. Reading a memorised text, apparently under duress, she confessed to editing a Telegram channel that releases personal information about, or doxes, Belarusian police officers and other security agents.
The video indicates that Belarus may plan to threaten Sapega, who is not known to have played a serious role in last year’s protests, with years in prison. Her lawyer, Alexander Filanovich, told the BBC’s Russian service she was being held at a KGB detentions centre for two months as “a preventive measure”.
Sapega’s mother, Anna Dudich, told Reuters her daughter steered clear of politics. “My hopes are now probably based on a miracle and on the knowledge that my daughter is definitely not guilty of anything,” Dudich said. “She simply showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Neither Dudich, speaking from the Belarus town of Lida, nor a lawyer have been able to contact Sapega since her detention, and have not been informed of any charges against her.
Dudich said her daughter, a Russian citizen who is in the final year of international law studies at the European Humanities University in Vilnius, said she feared for her daughter’s health and safety in detention, but that she was strong. “She is a very tough girl in a moral sense. She will get through, she will withstand, I’m sure of that,” she said.
EU leaders have promised fresh economic measures against Lukashenko’s government as well as a flight ban on the national carrier Belavia.
On Tuesday, French president Emmanuel Macron said: “Additional sanctions? Will this be sufficient? I absolutely can’t say today.” But, he added: “The unacceptable character of what happened justifies them.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel said the video of Pratasevich was “worrying and disturbing” and made the EU demand for his release “all the more urgent”. “And we will use all channels at our disposal to do this,” she said.
Estonia’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid, urged the UK to take action to stop corrupt money siphoning through London’s financial centre to Belarus. “We were not very shy here in Estonia, also after the Salisbury attack, to point out that there is a lot of [this] money in your own country,” Kaljulaid told BBC Radio.
Dmitry Pratasevich said his son looked extremely nervous in his video appearance, appeared to be missing some teeth and had bruises on the left side of his face and on his neck. “The video was clearly staged. It was done under pressure and it should not be believed.” But, he added, “at least it shows he is alive”.
Pratasevich’s parents moved to Poland eight months ago after being harassed during a crackdown against unprecedented mass protests that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020. They said their son felt safe in the European Union, first in Poland, where he moved in 2019, and then in Lithuania.
Dmitry Pratasevich welcomed action taken by EU leaders at a summit this week, saying that it would “help radically change the situation”. “I think it will help free my son,” he said.
Raman Pratasevich, who was born a year after president Alexander Lukashenko first came to power in 1994, began his journalism and political activism in his teens and has been arrested several times and spent weeks in jail. “He’s a fighter for justice,” his mother said.
She is still in disbelief that Belarusian authorities would deploy a fighter jet to force the plane her son was on to land. “They sent a fighter jet to get this young man. It’s an act of terrorism, I don’t think you can call it anything else. He’s been taken hostage. This is an act of pure revenge.” she said.
“My son, this young man just wanted to tell the truth about the situation. He didn’t do anything wrong.”