Belarusian journalist’s pardon – “epilogue to a vast masquerade”

Despite Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich’s announcement that he has been pardoned by Alexander Lukashenko – almost two years to the day since his arrest when the Belarusian authorities forced his commercial flight to land in Minsk – we must not forget how the authorities manipulated his detention, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.

In a video posted by the Belarusian state media on YouTube yesterday (22 May), a smiling Pratasevich appeared to be enjoying his new-found “freedom.” In a manner reminiscent of his forced apologies on state TV in 2021, he thanked Lukashenko and said he had signed all the documents making his pardon official.

The surprise announcement came just as the former editor of the Telegram opposition news channel Nexta, after forgoing an appeal, was due to begin serving the eight-year prison sentence he received from a court in Minsk on 3 May on charges that included “organising mass riots” and “appeals to commit terrorist acts.”

“Raman Pratasevich’s pardon seems to be the epilogue to a vast masquerade that the Lukashenko government has been staging for the past two years,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The new plot twist, exploiting Pratasevich for propaganda purposes and with uncertain consequences for this journalist, calls for caution. In particular, we are waiting to see whether he has recovered his freedom of movement and will be able to leave the country. Belarus still has 33 imprisoned journalists.

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of Eastern Europe & Central Asia Desk

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), RSF’s partner, said the former blogger had cooperated actively with the authorities since his arrest, “denouncing” many people who were subsequently prosecuted.

“We don’t yet know the conditions and limits of his pardon,” said BAJ president Andrei Bastunets. “But I don't think Pratasevich will be able to travel abroad. It is very probable that the authorities will continue to use him for propaganda purposes.”

The change in Pratasevich’s facial appearance speaks to the ordeal he has undergone since his dramatic arrest on 23 May 2021, especially the intense psychological pressure to which he was subjected. While awaiting trial, he spent many months under house arrest in an unknown place and unknown conditions.

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