It was two years ago that Belarusian authorities arrested a colleague on charges of drug trafficking, while Roma Protasevich first identified suspicious men who were following him to Minsk and fled to Poland, where he sought refuge.
Since then, opposition bloggers and other critics have clashed with powerful President Alexander Lukashenko from European capitals such as Vilnius and Warsaw. At home in large areas from other countries that did not cooperate with the government, they think they can not and can be protected by EU law.
Last Sunday, the numbers changed dramatically. Lukashenko chased the fighter jet to forcing a Ryanair flight and caught Protasevich on a flight to Vilnius with his girlfriend from a Greek vacation.
“She thought she was OK. He had no way of knowing what was going on – he was in the EU on a trip to the EU, “Dmitry’s Protasevich’s father told the Financial Times.” I think the panic came in when he realized he was turning the plane. “
Mr Lukashenko’s move sparked an evening crisis right then and there promise of EU sanctions. While this encouraged Belarus’s opposition leaders, it also entered a new wave of fears in their lives. Many of them are already in prison or in exile, fearing that their relatives will protect them.
“So far no one is doing well. Even in Belarus, or in the EU, “said Franak Viacorka, an aide Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an anti-presidential candidate who fled Vilnius last year after being threatened by the Belarus Security Service, still known as the KGB as in his Soviet days.
It was last August when Lukashenko, a former farm chief who ruled with boxing for 27 years, he increased his confusion over the opponents, hundreds of thousands after protesting his controversial election.
Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. But even with these measures, Protasevich’s arrest was an escalation of the atrocities and a worrying sign that it might come.
“All refugees and protests will be held accountable,” Lukashenko threatened this week, and it is clear that Belarus will continue to fight for human rights wherever they may be.
Protasevich’s arrest was difficult for Tsikhanouskaya and Viacorka, as he had fled Athens a week earlier. “The whole KGB is currently working to destroy Tsikhanouskaya. We have to be aware and we have to take care of ourselves, ”said Viacorka.
It was in 2010 that the deportees in Belarus began to grow after Lukashenko opposed protests after winning an election.
In response, Western countries contributed support to opposition publications including US-Free Radio Free Europe and Belsat funded by Poland. However, for several years, the unions continued to visit Belarus.
Then Nexta, a Polish opposition to the Telegram program, began publishing leaks from Belarusian officials with videos of Lukashenko’s fraudulent activities.
Then, last summer, Nexta played a leading role in publishing footnotes on the show, although it sometimes seems to improve. Modified by Protasevich, his audience at one time exceeded 2m – the largest in the world at only 9.5m.
Nexta’s victory will reveal Belarus’s disappointment with Lukashenko. But it also appears to have convinced Lukashenko that the dissenters in exile were a threat to his rule.
“Journalists and their radio stations did not change their voices. They scoffed [Lukashenko and his regime], ”Said Igor Trushkevich, a Belarusian opposition to Ukraine. “It is possible that Lukashenko was upset… He does not forgive at all.”
In an effort to strengthen the line around Protasevich, his family said a KGB agent tried to persuade his father, the retired ambassador, to trick their son into going to Prague, where security forces would arrest him. After his parents emigrated to Poland, Lukashenko took over Protasevich’s father from military service.
Nexta’s followers also became a target. Belarus’s Supreme Court this month sentenced an army officer to 18 years in prison for sending a letter to Nexta stating that the interior ministry had called on more troops to end “major unrest”.
Stsiapan Putsila, the founder of Nexta, says he and his colleagues have been under threat since Protasevich was arrested for assassination, or handed over to Belarus authorities, or their Warsaw office exploded.
“Obviously we have to be a little more careful. . . All the comments show that we are on track, “after Protasevich, told FT.” But we must continue, we must continue to fight, we must continue to oppose the government and we will do this. “
In any case, Trushkevich believes Ryanair’s forced rise was also designed to intimidate Nexta readers.
“The first sign is just intimidating people by making them think that this could happen to them,” he said. “Secondly, I want to show the people who support them how strong they are and that the government is strong. Anyone who crosses the line will have problems – forever. ”
After a week of crisis, opponents within Belarus are disillusioned. There are fears over the arrest of Protasevich and his girlfriend. But there is also hope that this will enable foreign countries to take action against Lukashenko, including exchanging penalties.
“The next day when we were trying to find out what was going on, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. It was terrible, ”said Aksana, a Minsk businesswoman. “On the other hand, I believe this helped to remind the world to listen to us, because we cannot do it on our own. We do not wage war with guns. ”