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Dzmitry and Natallya Pratasevich: "[Belarusian political prisoners] urgently need help because they are exposed to sadism and violence on a daily basis." (file photo)

The parents of the jailed Belarusian blogger detained after his international flight was forcibly diverted to Minsk have appealed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for assistance to secure his release, according to Germany's Bild.

Dzmitry and Natallya Pratasevich, who are in Poland after fleeing Belarus 10 months ago, said in an interview published on June 12 that their 26-year-old son, Raman, and other Belarusian political prisoners are being subjected to "sadism and violence on a daily basis."

"We ask very much for you to help us get all the innocent people out of [Belarusian] prisons," Pratasevich's mother said in her appeal to Merkel, adding, "They urgently need help because they are exposed to sadism and violence on a daily basis."

Mother Of Detained Belarusian Journalist: 'Hear The Cry Of My Soul'
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The younger Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were seized after Belarusian authorities cited a dubious bomb threat to force a Ryanair flight between Athens and Vilnius to land at Minsk's international airport on May 23.

The Western backlash to what many regard as a "state hijacking" has been fierce, with sanctions targeting Belarusian officials and bans and other measures targeting air travel from -- and even over -- Belarus.

Western governments had already imposed multiple rounds of sanctions against the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka since a violent crackdown began over massive protests that broke out after Lukashenka claimed a sixth-term reelection victory in August.

"Please stop Lukashenka," Natallya Pratasevich appealed to the German leader. "Every additional day -- no, every additional hour -- that goes by costs innocents, including children, their lives."

The Prataseviches say the letters they have sent to their son have not been delivered and that his lawyer "cannot talk to us freely on the phone."

Pratasevich is now facing charges in Belarus of inciting civil unrest that could keep him in prison for 15 years or more.

But the Belarusian opposition, his supporters, and international rights groups have warned of a more immediate risk to his life if he remains in the custody of the Lukashenka administration.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned on June 11 that Belarus might be slipping "into pariah status" after the airplane diversion.

"We need Belarus to step up and live up to the basic, fundamental, cardinal rules of international law," Raab said.

Pratasevich's parents have led a chorus of outrage and insist the charges are trumped up. They have also rejected the validity of videos of a haggard-looking Pratasevich allegedly confessing to wrongdoing.

Belarusian Student Says He Was Beaten In A 'Torture Truck'
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In the Bild interview, they cited "clear signs of torture," including a possible broken nose and bruising" in the videotaped "forced confessions."

Videos and other evidence of the brutal physical abuse of detainees has multiplied since the protests erupted in August and authorities launched a wave of thousands of arrests.

Sapega's family said on June 10 that it had just received their first letters from her since the couple was arrested more than two weeks ago, addressed from a KGB prison in Minsk.

With reporting by Bild and Deutsche Welle
The law could discourage the kind of exposés that jailed anti-corruption lawyer Aleksei Navalny and other Kremlin critics have published. (file photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill into law imposing penalties for disclosing the personal data of security officials or their relatives, a move that could further hamstring efforts to expose corruption or hold Russian officials accountable.

Punishments for offenders include jail sentences, house arrest, forced labor, and fines of up to 18 months' salary.

The law could discourage the kind of exposés that jailed anti-corruption lawyer Aleksei Navalny and other Kremlin critics have published, highlighting dodgy properties linked to senior officials like Putin and ex-President Dmitry Medvedev.

One such investigation, Putin's Palace, has attracted more than 100 million YouTube views and further cemented the reputation of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Campaign (FBK) as a detailed chronicler of suspect deals.

Pole Dancing And Fancy Toilet Brushes: Millions Watch Navalny Video On Alleged 'Putin Palace'
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The FBK was declared an "extremist" group by a Moscow city court on June 9, preventing people associated with it and his collection of regional political offices from seeking public office.

The ruling marked another watershed moment for Russia’s opposition.

A campaign by authorities to dismantle opposition networks has accelerated ahead of elections to the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, in September.

The new law signed this week by Putin casts a wide net, prohibiting the illegal collection, transfer, distribution, or access to the personal data of judges, prosecutors, investigators, Interior Ministry employees, or staff of numerous law enforcement agencies in connection with their professional duties.

It also covers such data relating to their families.

The State Duma previously passed a bill banning the disclosure of information about operational investigative activities, covering data on law enforcement officers and military personnel "regardless of the presence of an immediate threat to their safety."

The Russian federal agency tasked with maintaining real-estate records, Rosreestr, has already implemented changes to prevent access to information on assets linked to prominent officials, including relatives of former Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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