Roman Protasevich’s video ‘confession’ broadcast in Belarus last night was ‘rehearsed and scripted,’ body language experts have revealed.
The dissident journalist, known as an expressive news host, clasped his hands tightly as he spoke in clipped phrases – suggesting he was wracked by nerves.
The 26-year-old’s father today said his son’s nose appeared to be broken and his allies believe he had almost certainly been tortured after being hauled off a Ryanair flight with his girlfriend on Sunday.
The plane was hijacked in mid-air by a fighter jet which strongman President Alexander Lukashenko had personally ordered go and retrieve Mr Protasevich – a prolific regime critic who helped organise massive protests last year.
Mr Protasevich appears in the video with a mark on his forehead, his chin is slightly raised and his puffy eyes stare straight ahead, suggesting he is reading from a cue.
Body language expert Robin Kermode told MailOnline: ‘His voice sounds almost unnaturally strong in the circumstances. There is no faltering, as if this has been rehearsed and tightly scripted.’
FLICKER OF EMOTION: Protasevich’s mouth skews to the left in a rare moment which betrays emotion, while throughout most of the ‘confession’ his expressions are uncharacteristically flat – as if he is trying not to betray his thoughts
‘CLASPED’ and ‘PRAYING’: His hands are clasped together throughout most of the ‘confession’, suggesting tension, while at another moment he makes a ‘praying’ gesture (right) as he moves his hands up and down which could show he is making a deliberate effort to get the words out
LICKING LIPS and CLOSED EYES: Protasevich licks his lips (left) suggesting a fight or flight response and he closes his eyes (right) which could reveal a conflict, i.e. he does not believe the words that are coming out of his mouth
At one moment Mr Protasevich licks his lips which Mr Kermode says is a tell-tale ‘fight or flight response.’
At another Mr Protasevich’s eyes close which could mean an ‘incongruence’ between the words he is speaking and his thoughts – a conflict between the lies and the truth.
‘There is excessive tightening of the fingers, together with an upward and downward movement of the hands as if to emphasise every point, suggesting someone determined to get the script right in one take,’ the body language expert added.
The speed of the delivery is such that it would have been impossible to achieve without some level of ‘rehearsal or scripting.’
Mr Kermode said: ‘When he talks at the start about being detained, there is a complete lack of emotion. We would expect to see an emotional context here under the circumstances but it is oddly matter of fact, with precise wording, suggesting the exact words have been pre-agreed in some way.’
Another body language expert, Judi James, agrees that Mr Protasevich puts on a ‘poker face’ and his eyes are ‘inexpressive.’
She told MailOnline: ‘There are no “Hi, I’m fine!” relaxed-looking persuasive gestures here that a young man might use to reassure his family that he is OK, like a throwing out of open palms and maybe even a reassuring smile.
‘Instead his fingers are meshed in a self-contained-looking closed clasp with the upper thumb performing a clamp gesture that includes the sleeve of his sweatshirt.
‘He uses both his head and his clasped hands to perform small metronomic gestures as he speaks as though it is important to get the words across.
‘As he speaks about being detained there is a micro-gesture as the left side of his mouth slews out in what looks like a subtle display of emotion.
‘As he speaks his hand clasp changes slightly, becoming a steepled, forward-pointing “praying” shape before meshing up again, which again hints at a need to get the messages across.’
Mr Protasevich’s father earlier revealed that he believes his son’s nose was fractured and that powders and grease had been applied to his face to conceal bruising.
Opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, 26, (pictured after he was separated from other passengers) was hauled off the plane and arrested with his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega, 23, after the flight from Greece to Lithuania made the emergency landing in Minsk
Opposition journalist Roman Protasevich’s girlfriend Sofia Sapega who was also detained
Belarusian dog handler checks luggage from the Ryanair flight in Minsk International Airport on May 23
Ryanair flight FR4978 had been flying from Athens in Greece to Vilnius in Lithuania when it was escorted by a Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jet to Belarus amid fake reports of an IED on board. It was forced to make an emergency landing at Minsk Airport, where authorities arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich
Dzmitry Protasevich, who lives in Poland, said his son had been ‘forced’ to film the video confession.
‘It is very likely that his nose is broken, because the shape of it is changed and there’s much powder on the front of it, all of the left side of his face has powder, there’s some greasy stuff on the left side,’ Mr Protasevich said, adding that ‘it’s not his pack of cigarettes on the table – he doesn’t smoke these.’
‘I think he was forced. It’s not his words, it’s not his intonation of speech, he is acting very reserved and you can see he is nervous,’ he said.
In response to the hijacking and arrest of the journalist, EU leaders have agreed new sanctions on Belarus including cutting off air travel to or from the country – with European Council president Charles Michel saying that Minsk is playing ‘Russian roulette with the lives of innocent civilians.’