Belarus journo 'let his guard down,' say friends

Friends and family members of Roman Protasevich, the jailed journalist taken off a flight passing over Belarus, say he momentarily let his guard down.

Stsiapan Putsila, a friend and founder of the anti-government Nexta news outlet where Protasevich once worked, says they'd even discussed the risk of flying over Belarus:

“But of course no one expected this. No one could think that such a thing is possible in the modern world, that the plane would be told to land contrary to all international norms and standards. And such a step that has acquired such an international resonance, now all the media are writing about it. Of course it doesn't fit in my head."

Protasevich was a critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

He was on a passenger flight with his girlfriend back from a holiday in Greece to their homes in Lithuania on Sunday, when the plane was diverted to Belarus after authorities flagged what turned out to be a hoax bomb threat.

He is now in a Minsk jail, along with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

Charges against him include organizing mass riots, and he faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

They were both shown on state TV confessing to their alleged crimes, but opposition activists and his parents say they can see clear signs of torture on his face.

Speaking to a Polish broadcaster, his father, Dzmitry, said his son's holiday was a rare break from the intensity of his work at an anti-government news outlet.

“It was his first holiday in three years, he did not want to go but his friends simply forced him to go in order to rest, switch off."

Protasevich fled to Poland from Belarus in 2019, after feeling the heat from the authorities, and ensured his parents relocated later too.

In September, he moved to Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, which has become a hub for the Belarusian opposition.