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  • Ryanair Belarus flight diversion

image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionMr Protasevich sat next to uniformed military chiefs at the briefing

Authorities in Belarus have paraded the detained opposition blogger Roman Protasevich at a news conference in Minsk, where they gave their version of the Ryanair plane diversion of 23 May.

A BBC reporter who was initially at the media briefing says Mr Protasevich, 26, was clearly appearing under duress.

An alleged bomb threat forced the plane to land in Minsk, where passengers Mr Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested.

Belarus denies it was a forced landing.

Mr Protasevich, who is being held at a KGB prison in Belarus' capital, said he was feeling fine and had not been beaten. He also said he had caused damage to Belarus and now wanted to rectify the situation.

Before his arrest he said he feared a possible death penalty as he has been put on a Belarus terrorism list. And he would anyway face a long prison sentence if found guilty of inciting unrest.

We have just walked out. Not taking part when he is clearly there under duress.

— Jonah Fisher (@JonahFisherBBC) June 14, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

At the briefing on Monday the head of state investigations, Dmitry Gora, said Ms Sapega – who is Russian – had been charged with inciting social discord and enmity. She is also in the KGB jail in Minsk.

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The diversion of the Athens-Vilnius flight outraged the EU, UK and other Western nations. They reacted by banning state carrier Belavia from their airports and urging airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace.

Flatly contradicting independent accounts of what happened, Belarus air force chief Igor Golub told the briefing: "There was no interception, no forced diversion from the state border or forced landing of the Ryanair plane.

image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionTop state officials defended Belarus's disruption of the Ryanair flight

The Ryanair plane flew on to Vilnius after being kept at Minsk airport for several hours. A Belarusian MiG fighter had escorted it down. No bomb was found, but when passengers reboarded, both Mr Protasevich and Ms Sapega were kept in custody.

Earlier this month, in a tearful appearance on Belarus state TV, Mr Protasevich praised Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and admitted attempting to topple him.

Marks were visible on his wrists. Human rights and opposition campaigners say he was tortured.

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Mr Protasevich was editor of the opposition Nexta channel on the Telegram messaging app until last year. Nexta had a huge following in Belarus during mass street protests against the authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko.

The Belarusian opposition and Western governments say Mr Lukashenko – in power since 1994 – rigged the August election, in which he claimed victory.