Belarus’ leader has been accused of using jailed journalist Roman Protasevich as a “trophy” after he was made to attend a media conference that defended the forced diversion of his passenger plane.
Five Belarusian officials accompanied Mr Protasevich as he appeared at a government media briefing on Tuesday morning (Australian time).
“Everything is fine with me. Nobody beat me, nobody touched me,” he said.
“I understand the damage I have caused not only to the state, but also to the country. Now I want to do everything in my power to rectify this situation.”
Afterward, Franak Viacorka, an adviser to exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, tweeted: “No matter what he (Mr Protasevich) says, let’s not forget: He is a hostage. And the regime is using him as a trophy.”
“This is not a press conference but a scene of either Kafka or Orwell.”
Blogging outlet Belarus of the Brain, which Mr Protasevich ran before his arrest, said the 26-year-old’s public appearance was made under duress.
It also showed he was under the “strongest psychological pressure”, the site said.
Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko has faced international outrage over forcing down a Ryanair plane carrying Mr Protasevich on May 24.
The government maintains it received a bomb threat while the plane was over Belarusian territory, and had nothing to do with the journalist.
However, police detained Mr Protasevich and his girlfriend after the aircraft landed in Minsk.
Witnesses have recounted how Mr Protasevich started giving his mobile phone and other personal items to his girlfriend after realising the plane was headed for Belarus.
Mr Protasevich ran a popular messaging app that played a key role in helping organise massive protests against Belarus’ authoritarian leader.
It’s not the first time he has been made to front the public since his arrest.
Video released of him days after his detainment showed the journalist confessing to having organised anti-government demonstrations.
In the video, Mr Protasevich can be seen seated at a desk in a dark hooded jumper.
“I can state that I don’t have any health issues, including diseases of the heart or any other organs. Police officers are treating me properly and according to the law,” he said, adding that he had “confessed to organising mass protests in Minsk”.