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Belarus: Roman Protasevich's parents plea for help to save son and stop Lukashenko's 'evil'

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By Chantal Da Silva with AP
Mother of Roman Protasevich, Natalia Protasevich wipes tears from her eyes during a press conference in the Belarusian House Foundation in Warsaw
Mother of Roman Protasevich, Natalia Protasevich wipes tears from her eyes during a press conference in the Belarusian House Foundation in Warsaw   -   Copyright  Credit: AFP
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The parents of Roman Protasevich, the Belarusian journalist detained in Minsk after the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight on Sunday, have called on the international community to do more to stop Alexander Lukashenko's "evil" tactics and "save" their son.

Protasevich, an exiled dissident and outspoken critic of Lukashenko's regime, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were arrested in Minsk after their plane landed in Belarus.

Officials have claimed the flight’s grounding was ordered over a bomb scare. However, no evidence has been provided to support that claim and international leaders have accused Belarus of carrying out a ruse to arrest the journalist.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Protasevich’s parents, Natalia and Dmitry Protasevich, said they felt certain their son was being tortured and urged leaders around the world to ramp up sanctions against Belarus and demand Roman's release.

Addressing journalists, Natalia called on governments around the world to “help me save my child, my son”.

“Please hear the scream of my heart," she said. "It is a horrible situation that we’re in."

"All he wanted was to help his country, his fellow citizens," she said of her son. "We ask you for your support in spreading [this] information."

Asserting that a recent video published online of Roman, which his supporters say appears to have been made under duress, Natalia said "you can see in the video how my son has been tortured".

"My son Roman was clearly beaten up," she said. "I know my son. I know his features. Of course, I’m not a surgeon or doctor to give big claims, but I can see that under all the makeup that was done to him, his nose was probably broken, he had a scar on his neck. His face looked like he was being tortured for some time," she said.

As far as Protasevich's parents are aware, the detained journalist has not been allowed to have any visitors, including doctors.

Protasevich's father, Dmitry, said he believed visitors were not being allowed and the location where his son is being held is not being revealed because the Lukashenko administration wants to "hide the evil things they are doing to people".

Natalia said she feared many other "young bright youth" are facing the same treatment as her son as she urged international governments with "some kind of influence on Lukashenko" to step in "so that he can stop torturing the wonderful bright youth and stop all of the evil things that he is doing at the moment".

"Every single day of waiting counts," she said, adding: "Please save my son and all the other people that are being tortured."

Dmitry said he believed that further action, including sanctions, needed to be taken against Belarus.

In the meantime, he said he believed that "the closing of the Belarus airspace might prevent other situations like that from happening".

Referring to Sunday's events, he said that being in the "airspace of Belarus is quite dangerous".

On Wednesday, Lukashenko remained defiant, telling parliament, without providing any evidence, that Roman Protasevich had been plotting a "bloody rebellion".

He also accused the West of waging a "hybrid war" against him.