Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda on Belarus, detainment of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich

The president of the Baltic state said that Belarus is under a “cynical, dangerous regime” in a country with no “free or transparent elections.”

By Augustas Didžgalvis — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson, Lithuanian president Gitanas Nausėda detailed the Baltic country’s relationship with the ongoing detainment and alleged torture of 26-year-old Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Nausėda took the time to express his distrust for the current political climate in Belarus. The president said that Lithuania has not had any direct contacts with Belarusian authorities since August of 2020, which is why the Lithuanian government has not pushed for any substantial action for Protasevich’s release.

“After Belarusian authorities and [Belarusian president] Mr. Lukashenko started this unprecedented, aggressive attack against civil society, against free journalists, it’s not possible to collaborate with him.” Nausėda said in the interview.

Nausėda went further and called Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko the illegitimate leader of the country, a claim supported by the Belarusian opposition and authorities across the European Union.

While Lithuania does not maintain direct connections with Belarusian authorities, Nausėda claims that they have received information “indirectly” about the incarceration of Belarusian opposition members and journalists.

“I would like to remind you that there are 400 political prisoners right now in [Belarus],” Nausėda said. “Many of them are tortured, beaten, and one of the opposition representatives was just killed in the jail. We have 30 journalists, according to my information, in jail.”

The opposition representative that Nausėda is referring to, 50-year-old Vitold Ashurok, allegedly died of a heart attack while jailed in a penal colony in eastern Belarus on May 21, according to the Belarusian news outlet Onliner.

Ashurok was a member of the Belarusian Popular Front opposition party, in January 2021, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment in a closed-door trial for “‘grossly’ violating public order and for violence against a member of police.

President Nausėda’s statements comes after Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were detained by Belarusian authorities on May 23 on flight FR4978 en route to Vilnius, Lithuania from Athens, Greece.

The plane was forced to make a landing in Minsk after an alleged bomb threat from the Palestinian organization Hamas. Belarusian officials claimed that in a ProtonMail from Hamas to Minsk, the Palestinian organization threatened to bomb the plane if “the European Union [did not] abandon its support for Israel in this war.

But as more information has come forward, there are holes in the timeline presented by Belarusian officials.

“The initial signal came from Minsk airport with the requirement to land in Minsk Airport,” Nausėda said in the interview. “This signal came thirty minutes earlier than the email.”

Relationships between the Lithuania and Belarus, both formerly part of the Soviet Union, continue to strain. Nausėda makes the assertion that this political situation, rife with allegations of human rights violations, free press violations and voter suppression, should not just garner the attention of the European Union, but the United States as well.

“Belarus is socially and economically weak,” Nausėda said. “The country is fully dependent on Russia, in many senses, financially and energetically. We should continue to maintain the pressure not only on Belarus, but also on Russia.”

Journalist based out of Boston, Massachusetts. Find me on twitter: @joshjsokol