Roman Protasevich is the editor of Belamova, a Telegram channel established last year by Igor Losik, a consultant for US state-run media organisation RFE/RL. Belamova was effectively outlawed last month, after a court in the eastern Belarusian city of Gomel declared it an “extremist” organization. Losik was arrested last summer in his home town of Baranavichy, and remains in prison.
Protasevich himself previously worked directly for the Washington-funded propaganda outlet, which supports US foreign policy goals in Eastern and Central Europe.
Last year, he was employed as editor-in-chief of the popular Polish-based opposition Telegram channel Nexta Live, which the government had previously also declared extremist. He was put on an international wanted list by the Belarusian authorities in November, accused of helping to organize anti-government protests following last summer’s presidential election and “inciting social enmity and discord.”
A request for Poland to hand him over to law enforcement in Minsk, along with Nexta Live’s founder Stepan Putilo, fell on deaf ears.
On Sunday, Belarus’ Interior Ministry made the surprise announcement of Protasevich’s arrest, with opposition figurehead Svetlana Tikhanovskaya branding the move “an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain the activist.” Tikhanovskaya herself lives in Lithuania, having left Belarus shortly after last year’s election, where she stood as a candidate against Lukashenko.
The situation was made possible after Protasevich boarded a flight from Greece to Lithuania. Part of the trip went over Belarusian territory, and shortly before leaving the country’s airspace, the aircraft, operated by Ireland’s Ryanair, made a U-turn and changed its destination to Minsk.