Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian journalist who was detained in Minsk last year after the commercial flight he was on was forced to land, says he is no longer under house arrest.
Pratasevich said in an interview on January 25 with the YouTube channel of Dzmitry Belyakou, director of the pro-government Systemic Rights Defense Center in Belarus, that he was allowed to leave the place where he had been staying.
Countries around the world have condemned Belarus's authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka for the "state hijacking" of the passenger aircraft to arrest Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. The flight was en route to Vilnius from Athens on May 23 when it was forced to make an emergency landing in the Belarusian capital because of a bomb threat that several countries have called a hoax.
"I just left the place where I was under house arrest," Pratasevich said, adding that it has been difficult for him to socialize and adjust to life after seven months under house arrest.
Pratasevich did not say when exactly he had been released from house arrest, adding that he had no specific plans other that that he would work on media activities at the Systemic Rights Defense Center. He is also going to restart his Telegram channel Sprava, he said, as the investigation into his case continues.
Pratasevich faces charges in connection with civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020, an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He was a key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live, which covered the mass protests denouncing the official results of the August 2020 election.
After about a month in jail, Pratasevich and Sapega were moved from the separate prisons where they were being held to house arrest amid calls by the opposition and rights activists for their immediate release.
Before being transferred to house arrest, Pratasevich made several appearances on Belarusian state television that prompted the opposition and Western officials to accuse Lukashenka's regime of extracting video confessions under torture and call for his and his girlfriend's immediate release.
Belarusian prosecutors said last month that they had filed final charges against Sapega, adding that she was charged with inciting social hatred, damaging information security, mishandling private data, and threatening law enforcement.
If convicted, Sapega could face up to six years in prison.
Pratasevich did not talk about Sapega in his YouTube appearance on January 25.
In a report released on January 17, a fact-finding team set up by the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to probe the incident concluded that the bomb threat was "deliberately false."
The U.S. Justice Department then charged four Belarusian government officials with conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy in the forced landing of the flight.
In an indictment filed on January 20 in a New York federal court, prosecutors said the officials conspired to fake a bomb threat that forced the Ryanair flight to make an emergency landing in Minsk while the plane was flying over the country’s airspace.
The Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet to ensure the crew complied with the orders of flight controllers, who the indictment says were under the control Belarusian security agents.