Belarus has "pardoned" jailed Belarusian activist Raman Pratasevich, Belarusian state news agency BelTA said on May 22.
The Minsk regional court sentenced Pratasevich, a former editor for Belarusian Telegram channel Nexta, to eight years in prison on May 8. The court accused him of participating in a so-called “extremist group,” undermining national security, and other politically motivated charges.
Pratasevich's co-defendants, Yan Rudzik and Stsiapan Putsila, who were tried in absentia, were sentenced to 19 and 20 years in prison, respectively.
“Literally, I just signed all the relevant documents stating that I was pardoned. This, of course, is just great news,” Pratasevich told reporters in Minsk.
Pratasevich fled Belarus but was detained when his commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk while flying over the country.
On July 19, 2022, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) found Belarus guilty of orchestrating the forced landing of Ryanair Flight FR4978. According to the ICAO, forced landings constitute an offense under the Montreal and Chicago conventions.
Pratasevich has been called the regime’s “hostage,” appearing in official press conferences and on state-owned TV as an alleged “remorseful opposition activist” that is now loyal to Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko. Human rights groups say his confessions have been extracted through torture.
The Nexta Telegram channel published videos that criticized Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s regime on topics like the country’s elections, the death penalty, and protests over various government policies.
It extensively covered the protests that followed the fraudulent Belarusian presidential election in 2020.
From Aug. 9 to 16 that year, Nexta’s Telegram channel audience grew from 427,000 to over 2 million subscribers, becoming the mouthpiece and coordinator for protests across the country.