Putin ally demands activist Roman Protasevich is 'shot like a dog' after Ryanair ‘hijack’ arrest by ‘Russian spies’

A LEADING ally of Vladimir Putin has called for detained Belarusian activist Roman Protasevich to be "shot like a dog".

Tycoon Yevgeny Prigozhin said he respected the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for forcing a plane to land in a bid to arrest the 26-year-old journalist.

Protasevich was detained when the Ryanair jet was forced to land in Minsk on Sunday.

Upon leaving the plane on Sunday, passengers on the flight said that Protasevich told them he feared he would face the death penalty.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that retains the death penalty.

“Glory, glory to Lukashenko,” Prigozhin said. “I respect, bow and support [him] with all my heart. 

“A great man who stopped the scum, and didn’t let them **** into his face.”

“One more law needs to be urgently added to all the Belarussian laws – to shoot Protasevich like a dog. 

“Respect one more time, Aleksander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko].”

Prigozhin, 59, nicknamed "Putin’s Chef", is a catering magnate who rose to fame running Kremlin banquets and is now behind a notorious private army of mercenaries fighting in Africa. 

Reports from the UN in March claimed that the Russian Wagner mercenaries committed human rights abuses in the Central African Republic as they fought  alongside government forces.

They were accused of mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture during interrogation, and forcing the displacement of the civilian population.

The "grave human rights abuses” included allegations of rape. 

He is also wanted by the FBI for his suspected involvement in the hacking of the 2016 US election.

On Monday Protasevich appeared on state TV saying he is in good health and acknowledging having played a role in organising mass disturbances last year.

He said on Monday: "I am in Detention Centre No1 in Minsk. I can say that I have no health problems, including with my heart or any other organs.

"The attitude of employees towards me is as correct as possible and according to the law. I continue cooperating with investigators and am confessing to having organised mass unrest in the city of Minsk."

The comments were immediately dismissed by his allies as made under duress, adding that he was almost certainly being tortured.

"This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure. I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners," a leader of Belarusian opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Tsikhanouskaya told Sky News that she feared Protasevich may have been tortured.

Appearing on several channels of the Telegram messaging app, Protasevich, wearing a dark sweatshirt and with his hands tightly clasped in front of him, says he is in a pre-trial detention facility in Minsk and denies having heart problems reported by some social media.

He also appears to have a small black spot on his forehead.

An hour after the footage appeared online European Union leaders agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus.

The leaders also called on their airlines to avoid Belarusian airspace and authorised work to ban Belarusian airlines from European skies and airports, a spokesman said.

Meeting in Brussels, the 27 national leaders of the bloc demanded an immediate release of Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, as well as an investigation by the International Organization for Civilian Aviation into the incident on Sunday.

The head of the British Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat said of the hijacking: "If it's not an act of war, it's certainly a warlike act."

Transport secretary Grant Shaps has since told airlines to stay out of Belarusian airspace in the wake of the incident.

He explained in a tweet: "Following the forced diversion of a @Ryanair aircraft to Minsk yesterday, I've instructed @UK_CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) to request airlines avoid Belarusian airspace in order to keep passengers safe. I have also suspended Belavia's operating permit."

He and foreign secretary Dominic Raab have suspended the air permit for airline Belavia with immediate effect, with Raab labelling the jet incident "a shocking assault on civil aviation."

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, 66, has faced the biggest challenge of his nearly 27-year-old rule from protesters who took to the streets after he was declared the winner of an election last year they said was rigged.

About 35,000 people have been detained since the start of regular demonstrations in August 2020.

Lukashenko denies electoral fraud and has accused the West of sponsoring the protests.

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