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Outrage Over Flight Diversion, Dissident Arrest in Belarus; U.S. Citizens Warned to Avoid Japan as Olympics Near; China Refute Report on Hospitalization of Researchers; Belarusians Flee Repression of Lukashenko's Regime; U.K. Black Lives Matter Activist in Critical Condition; Myanmar Detains American Journalist; Tropical Cyclone Yaas Set to Strike India. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired May 25, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for staying with us. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Ahead this hour, the E.U. sanctions are coming after Belarus forces a Ryanair flight to divert, land and then arrest two passengers on board. One, an outspoken critic of the Belarusian president.

He was heading home to surprise his parents. Instead, an American journalist in Myanmar was detained at an airport and it's feared he's now being transferred to a notorious prison.

Also ahead, doctors want them cancelled. Most Japanese support them and now, another blow to the Tokyo Olympics. A U.S. advisory warning Americans to avoid all travels to Japan due to the fears of a coronavirus.


VAUSE: International condemnation has been growing louder over what the E.U. has called outrageous behavior by Belarus, sending a MiG fighter to the commercial airliner to make a forced landing. Once on the ground, authorities there arrested a high profile blogger and dissident.

Roman Protasevich appeared on a pro-government social media news channel after he was detained in Minsk. His supporters say he looked to be under generous as he claimed to be the organizer of mass riots last year. Protasevich was arrested Sunday when his ride from Greece to Lithuania was diverted by fellow Russian air traffic control. The forced landing was under pretext of a nonexistent security law. Protasevich is a vocal critic of President Alexander Lukashenko.

While leaders are slamming this latest incident, that includes the U.S. president saying it's a direct affront to international norms. He went on to say this: The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms both the diversion of the plane and the subsequent removal and arrest of Mr. Protasevich. This outrageous incident and the video of Mr. Protasevich appears to have made under duress, a shameful assaults on both political dissent and the freedom of the press.

Protasevich founded a social media channel which helped mobilize protest against President Lukashenko. He's now on the wanted list of what the Belarusian government calls terrorism.

CNN's Matthew Chance has more.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is why the Belarusian authorities seen this dissident journalist as such a threat. The social media channel founded by Roman Protasevich, who's just 26, was instrumental in organizing these masked protests against flawed presidential elections last year. And, of course, in exposing the brutal tactics used by Belarusian police to crack down.

Tactics -- his father who spoke to CNN from exile in Poland says he fears will now be used on his son.

DMITRY PROTASEVICH, FATHER OF ROMAN PROTASEVICH (through translator): We are very worried as we expect torture and physical abuse, although we hope that that will not happen. But knowing the KGB methods, we hope that he will be strong enough and have enough willpower to enjoy all that awaits him.

CHANCE: But for the first time since his extraordinary arrest at the weekend, the dissident journalist and campaigner has appeared from Belarusian jail on Telegram. Critics say he seemed under pressure.

I'm now in jail number one in the city of Minsk. I can declare that have no health problems including with the heart or any other organs, he says. Now, I will continue to cooperate with the investigation and I am confessing to organizing mass riots in Minsk.

That confession, say critics, is likely to have been made under duress.

This was the scene at Minsk airport over the weekend where Roman Protasevich was taken off the airliner after having been forced to land because of with the Belarusian authorities said was a midair bomb threat. They deployed a fighter jet to intercept the passenger plane. The airliner with roman Protasevich on board had been on route from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania when it was ordered to abruptly change course by Belarusian air traffic control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ryanair 1 Tango Zulu, this is our recommendation.

CHANCE: But Roman's father told CNN he believes the whole emergency was manufactured to capture his son, revenge for standing up to the Belarusian regime.

PROTASEVICH: I think that my son is a hero and I'm very proud of him. I hope that he will be an example too many young people, that they should never give up.


If a person wants to live in a free, democratic country they need to do everything possible for it.

CHANCE: But amid white scale allegations of torture and abuse of prisoners in Belarus, this may deter as many as it inspires.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


VAUSE: And we are joined now by Bob Baer, CNN intelligence and security analyst, and former CIA operative.

Bob, thank you for being with us.

I want to start with the view from Brussels and just how serious this is now being viewed by the E.U.

Listen to this.


CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT: What happened yesterday is an international scandal. Life of European civilians were at risk yesterday. This is not acceptable. That is why we put the debate of sanctions on the table of the European consulate. We are preparing different options, different possible measures. I hope tonight we can take decisions on that.


VAUSE: So already we have the situation where the Belarusian Airlines are being banned from traveling to the E.U. E.U. carriers are of urged to avoid Belarus airspace. There's economic sanctions of individuals. Is that severe enough of it deterrence which will mean this is a one- off? Or does it simply mean game on?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Oh it is game on, John. This is a terrorist act hijacking airplanes. States don't do this, ever. You know, Iran did in the '80s, using proxies, Iran did that in the '80s, sending up jets hijacking an airplane. This is crossing a red line which the Europeans and United States cannot put up with.

You can get into sanctions. You can do stop planes flying in and the rest of it, but there will probably go on from, because this is just an illegal act. And it's like I said, it's an act of a terrorist state.

VAUSE: It probably wasn't the best thought out through plan. The civil aviation authorities in Belarus came up with a cover story blaming Hamas, claiming the terrorist group had planted a bomb on the plane (INAUDIBLE) Israeli agree to a ceasefire, which it already agreed to, being in place for a couple of days. Pretty united on one side, though, will the President Lukashenko going ahead with this plan without a nod and a wink from the Kremlin, without some kind of commitment of ongoing economic and political support?

BAER: Well, that's the key question, because would he have done this without the green light from Putin? I frankly don't think so, because Belarus is a state that depends on Russia. Economically and for security, there's a large Russian presence in Minsk. And would they have gone ahead and done this without consulting the Kremlin? It would surprise me, and if they did do it on their own, Lukashenko has probably lost his mind.

VAUSE: Well, yeah. He does have a history of making some erratic decisions. But when an aircraft is wheels up anywhere in the world regardless of which country it may be flying over, that aircraft is in the nationality of the place where it's registered. This case, it was Poland, I think. This incident is one of more than 600 cases would Freedom House calls transnational repression which is governments reaching across borders to silence dissent among this Diasporas and exiles, including assassinations, illegal deportations, abductions, digital threats, intellectual abuse and family intimidation.

Putin has been a global leader in disrespecting national sovereignty in this kind of stuff. How much is the influence, not just Lukashenko, but the other autocrats and Putin-wannabes around the world?

BAER: Well, you hit the nail on the head. Putin has been assassinating people in Europe for a decade and a half. There's a group in Russia that hack the Colonial pipeline and a bunch of other hacks. The Russians are not coming down on them. Russia is looking very much like a rogue state.

And so far, they haven't been punished. It's not just about interfering in American elections, it's interfering in a lot of places around the world, and frankly sanctions have not worked so far.

VAUSE: Yeah. We heard from the leader of the opposition in Belarus by a tweet, saying the regime's propaganda channel posed video of arresting Roman Protasevich, saying that he is treated unlawfully in Minsk detention center number one, being treated lawfully I should say. This is how Roman Protasevich looks under physical and moral pressure.

She goes on to say, I demand the immediate release of Roman and all political prisoners. That's not going to happen.

But what -- so what is Protasevich's state right now? Where does he end up? And also, how is secure is Lukashenko that he needed to go to these links to get a blogger?

BAER: Oh, exactly. He went after a blogger. He must be completely insecure. He is worried about, you know, keeping the throne at this point. Frankly this guy is very honest in the rest of it. But he is not an internal threat. He is not the head of an organized resistance in any matter. So, for Lukashenko to take this risk, I worry about his reasoning. It's a -- a state like this, you know, right under Europe's border and Russia's.


This is a real problem.

VAUSE: Quickly, what is Protasevich's fate? What happens to him now?

BAER: Oh, he's going to -- he's going to be under a hostile interrogation, possibly torture. The KGB in the Belarus is known for torturing prisoners, especially dissidents. You know, I worry about his faith.

VAUSE: Well, thank you. I appreciate you being with us.

Bob Baer with some good insight, we appreciate it. Thanks, Bob.

Well, much like the lord of the sea, the fight freedoms of flight have been followed and respected my most nations for decades and no matter with the detentions and strains around the world, but now the actions of Belarus appear to be unprecedented violation of international norms and agreements.

CNN's Anna Stewart reports now on the fallout.


ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Airlines in the aviation industry are still reeling from the events of Sunday. Ryanair CEO said the diversion of the flight was a state sponsored hijacking or piracy. ICAO which is the regulator for the world's skies said they're going to have an emergency meeting this week. They're concern that the global convention that governs airspace rules have been breached, and the head of IATA says it's unlawful act and said it must be investigated.

WILLIE WALSH, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IATA: We have to carve this out as this is unacceptable behavior. It has endangered the safety of the aircraft, the passengers and the crew on board the aircraft. We demand that it be investigated properly to understand why this happened and to get assurances that will not happen again.

STEWART: The list of airlines he said individually that they're going to avoid Belarus airspace is growing. It now includes Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Baltic Air, LOT, Wizz Air and actually all U.K. airlines now on the advice of the U.K. government. They've actually gone a step further as well. They have suspended the operation permit for Belavia. That is the national carrier of Belarus. They operate out of London's Gatwick Airport, flies to over 20 destinations every week. So, they effectively banning it from operating in the U.K.

Now, measures like this, you could see more of them, they will be very damaging to many airlines outside of Belarus. You may have to take longer routes around their destinations. It will be painful, of course, for the passengers on those flights. It will make people in Belarus increasingly isolated, but there is no doubt it will be very damaging economically to Belarus and to the government. Anna Stewart, CNN, London.


VAUSE: Mali's interim president and prime minister are in military custody. Their arrests are reported by several international groups and a committee, monitoring Mali's return to civilian oversight after a military coup last year.

Both leaders were sworn in last September after the military agreed to hand over power to a civilian transitional government. Several countries including the U.S., the U.K. and the European Union are calling for -- calling the arrest rather a power grab and demanding both leaders be released immediately.

The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Tel Aviv, the first stop on a three-day tour in the Middle East. He's there to consolidate support for the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Blinken will also try to secure assistance for rebuilding Gaza while insuring Hamas does not benefit financially.

And as CNN Nic Robertson reports, for now, Blinken is not pushing to restart long term peace talks.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: So, the real headline message from the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he arrives here Tuesday morning is to keep the cease-fire on track. He'll have meetings here in Jerusalem where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, he will go to Ramallah, is expected to go to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

And these meetings are important. But it's not of course meeting with one of the parties to the conflict, and that is Hamas -- the United States Hamas is terrorist organization. But the key thing for the secretary of state is to make sure that the ceasefire holds.

And he says the rebuilding and Gaza and the rebuilding that is required in Israel as well. He wants to make sure however any money that goes to Gaza for rebuilding goes through the U.N., goes through the Palestinian Authority, are not going into Hamas pockets to buy weapons. That's easier said than done.

So, the conversations he will here will no doubt have elements of that, because that would be very important to the government here in Israel but I think the sort of broader picture at the moment has to be that the United States really is just trying to keep piece on track here. The secretary of state isn't coming to restart detailed negotiations to try to get to the United States vision of a two-state solution. He is making that clear. It's to keep the momentum that the cease-fire and to keep hopes of the possibility alive, potentially further down the line when there's a better political climate for that two-state solution. [01:15:08]

Nic Robertson, CNN, Jerusalem.


VAUSE: Meantime, Israeli's law enforcement has made more than 1,000 arrests after violence erupted between their Israeli Jews and Palestinian Israeli citizens over the past two weeks.

In the city of Lod, an Arab man and a Jewish man died in separate incidents. Israeli's operation law and order sent thousands of police in border offices on the hunt for the rioters, but an Arab Israeli human rights groups is calling the operation a war against Palestinian demonstrators and political activists.

Well, President Biden is condemning recent anti-Semitic attacks which appeared to be inspired by the conflict in the Middle East. You know, police are recommending hate crimes charges for a suspect arrested in a gang assault on a Jewish man last week in Times Square. Authorities say the 29-year-old victim punched, kicked and pepper sprayed him.

Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, Americans are being more to avoid travel to Japan. Another blow for Tokyo with the Summer Games less than two months away.

Also, China says the U.S. is hyping up false theories about how the coronavirus originated. We'll live in Beijing with more of the Wuhan research lab at the center of this controversy.


VAUSE: The head of the World Health Organization says no country is out of the woods, while a COVID-19 variants are spreading around the world. And he's described as a scandalous inequity where 75 percent of all vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries. It's big reason why cases and deaths are soaring in some parts of the world.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Almost 18 months into the defining health crisis of our age, the world remains in a very dangerous situation. As of today, more cases have been reported so far this year than in the whole of 2020. On current trends, the number of this will overtake last year's total is in the next three weeks.


VAUSE: And he is urging the big pharmaceutical companies to make more vaccine doses. He wants 30 percent of the populations of all countries to be vaccinated by year's end. The U.S. State Department has advised Americans to avoid travel to Japan because of a growing number of COVID infections. With the Tokyo Games just two months away, the U.S. Olympic Committee is confident athletes and staff will be safe despite the travel morning. Olympic organizers insisting the games will go on. For more, let's go live to Selina Wang live. Selina, there is a

situation where the travel advisory comes as the Olympic Games organizers said it will be no international spectators will be allowed to attend the games. So, it seems to be in a practical sense, does not have much of an impact, but symbolically it has a huge impact.

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the optics and timing here could not come at a worse time when Tokyo and Olympic organizers are already under increasing pressure to cancel these dates. And this travel advisory, while foreign travelers are already banned from Japan, it is a very strong statement, a strong signal.

It's the highest level of caution a level 4 do not travel advisory. And the CDC says that even fully vaccinated travelers should not go to Japan and even they are still at risk of contracting and further spreading new COVID-19 variants in Japan.

Now, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has played down this travel advisory saying it will not impact plans with athletes. The U.S. -- Japan cabinet secretary has also said that the tribal advisory is unrelated to the Olympics and they do not think that this impacts the U.S.'s support of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

But, John, as we get closer to the games, the sentiment here on the ground, the reality here on the ground from a medical perspective and the commentary coming from Olympic officials that contrast is only becoming wider and more concrete. Here in Japan COVID-19 cases continue to surge as you have Tokyo and large parts of Japan still under a state of emergency.

In parts of Japan including Osaka, doctors are warning of a medical system collapse. They're running out of hospital bed space and ventilators. We also have still less than 2 percent of the Japanese population fully vaccinated. So, the situation and the juxtaposition now, John, is only becoming greater.

VAUSE: So, what are the Olympic organizers said about this travel warning which is coming from the U.S.? Surely, they can't be pleased.

WANG: Well, Olympic organizers continue to say that they are fully confident that their measures are going to allow them to hold a safe and effective Olympic Games. Just last night, I spoke to Dick Pound who is the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, and he says he already has his flight booked to Japan and that he is confident the games will be held and that cancellation is off the table.

Now this, though, it's despite growing oppositions to these games in Japan. Local polls show that more than 80 percent of people think the game should not go ahead this year. Doctors tell me that this is a nightmare scenario for Japan. A group representing 6,000 doctors and Tokyo has urged the government to cancel these games. They say that Japan's medical system is over stretch and these Olympic Games could push it over the edge and lead it to that system collapsed that doctors in Osaka are already warning of. So, despite the confidence coming from these Olympic organizers, the

medical community on the ground says that the measures in place which includes testing, contact tracing and social distancing, are not enough and that it is impossible to keep a safe bubble when you have more than 11,000 athletes of more than 200 countries, more than 70,000 staff and officials, as well as tens of thousands of unvaccinated volunteers -- John.

VAUSE: Selina, thank you. Selina Wang live for us in Tokyo.

In many parts of the United States it seems the coronavirus pandemic is fast becoming a distant memory. As case numbers drop and schools and businesses are reopening, sporting events are being held.

CNN's Alexandra Field reports from New York.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the feeling sweeping across the country.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: It's time for everyone to come back. It's time for us all to be together.

FIELD: New Year city's public schools will fully reopen for in-person learning by the fall. Los Angeles schools announcing the same plans.

Some of the latest in an onslaught of declarations of incredible progress if not quite victory in the fight against COVID-19, as so many Americans feel safe enough to celebrate.

Thousands in a maskless crowd swarming the greens at the PGA championship over the weekend. The New York Knicks selling out Madison Square Garden to mostly vaccinated fans.



FIELD: New COVID cases across the country falling now to a stunning lows. The average daily number down 87 percent since the start of the year with average deaths dropping about 80 percent in the same time.

But Americans are still being urged to assess their own risk level and take precautions where necessary, even as hospitalizations also fall.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: It shows really a rapidly declining overall vulnerability of the U.S. population. Bottom line is that that the people who are getting infected now tend to be people who are younger, less vulnerable to the infection, because a lot of the vulnerable population has been vaccinated.

FIELD: Half of all states report they have fully vaccinated half of their adult population with the Northeast states leading the way and Southeast states lagging behind. The state of Maine recording the most success, almost 63 percent of

adults there are fully vaccinated. And nine states have already reached a goal set by President Joe Biden, to get 70 percent of all adults at least one shot of the vaccine by July 4th.


GOVERNOR JIM JUSTINE (R), WEST VIRGINIA: Every single one of our young people, we're going to give a $100 savings bond.

FIELD: West Virginia is trying to entice more young people to get their shots, with $100 gift cards or savings bonds for those between the ages of 16 and 35.

New York is targeting travelers opening vaccination sites at New York City airports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's give you a CDC card.

FIELD: Just as more people prepare to spend much less time at home.


FIELD (on camera): As we see so much progress toward vaccinations and toward lowering the rate of infection nationwide, more states are easing up on the restrictions. New Jersey will drop most of its social distancing and masking requirements on Friday. That will apply to everyone who regardless of vaccination status.

However, officials there are urging people who are not vaccinated to still go ahead and wear those masks indoors or just go get the vaccine.

In New York, Alexandra Field, CNN.

VAUSE: Well, there is renewed debate over the origins of the coronavirus. And China is pushing back against U.S. intelligence which claims researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology needed hospital care in November 2019, and that has raised the possibility that the first victims of the coronavirus were infected earlier than reported in a lab accident.

A spokesman for China's foreign ministry suggests the U.S. is trying to divert attention from actual origin tracing.

Here's the White House medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on whether the virus develop naturally.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: No, I'm not convinced about that. I think that we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability exactly what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: Let's go live to Beijing. CNN's Steven Jiang standing by for us.

Steven, this is the theory and conspiracy theory that will just not go away. China's pushing back against it. Are they offering any more proof? Any more evidence to rebut this theory that is coming from the U.S. intelligence?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, John, this is such an increasingly sensitive issue here because not only do they not want to be seen as a source of global pandemic, but also both international and domestically, these new questions, this new focus really is canceling out the narrative they've been pushing out so hard in terms of trying to turn China into a success story and continue this virus and then helping the rest of the world with their vaccines, really, you know, the process of trying to showcase the seniority of their communist political system.

That's why they have been lashing out at anyone who voices support to call for more investigations into their role in the origin of the virus. That includes Dr. Fauci.

Remember, Dr. Fauci was portrayed as a hero here for a long time because of his opposition to many of the former U.S. President Trump's claims and policy on COVID-19, but now almost overnight, Dr. Fauci is considered a villain. He and other prominent American scientists who are calling for more investigations in China are being called traitors of science by state media here and saying they have betrayed science. They have betrayed their Chinese partners and saying they have been caving in under pressure from political forces in the U.S.

But that, of course, that kind of accusation itself is highly politicized, because it discounts the fact that scientists like Dr. Fauci could have evolving news based on your information. That seems to be exactly would have been to many outside experts, especially after the world health organization led investigation into hunt earlier this year, because remember, members concluded it was extremely unlikely that virus was leaked from the lab based on a visit to the lab.

But all they did there was talk to the staff there for a few hours. They have very limited, if any access to raw original Chinese data. That is why that conclusion has not been very convincing to many outside experts and government officials around the world, including the chief of the WHO himself, Dr. Tedros, who had long been considered a pro-China figure who has actually now come out, calling for more investigation into the lab leak theory and saying he was ready to deploy a new team into China. But that, of course, is highly unlikely given how resistant China is to this idea -- John.

VAUSE: OK, just to be clear. That report which came out earlier this year with the WHO team that actually managed to get into the lab and places around the will hunt area. That admission was not a proper investigation. It was a review, right, of the various information which China allowed them to see. It was all highly controlled, highly managed. The questions were vetted. They didn't have, you know, time to speak

with the people individually or alone, or privately. So, they're on a mission. It was not a proper investigation as you would think of it.

So, here's the thing, if China wants to put an end to this and everybody agrees it's important to find out where this virus came from, surely isn't it upon them, the Chinese government and how do they answer this call to open the books? To allow open and unfettered access to everything they know about COVID-19 and the coronavirus and where it came from? Because as of officially (ph) at this point, they have not done that.

So, how do they answer those calls and those allegations that they're hiding something?


JIANG: That is the thing. They have been resisting to all these calls and requests, because as you see the bottom line here is transparency. A lot of outside experts say you just need to give independent experts unfettered access to research and to data logs at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But that is something they're not willing to do at this point.

And they're actually saying we have done everything we could in helping the WHO in its origin tracing investigations. Now it's time to investigate other countries especially pointing a finger at the United States without providing any concrete evidence.

So that's why, you know, this back and forth is not going to end because of their own actions and it seems they are also feeling frustrated that their claims and assertions about these so-called multiple origin theory is now really resonating with the rest of the world. That's why you see these really, you know, forceful responses and pushback from Beijing, John.

VAUSE: Steven, appreciate that, thank you. Steven Jiang there live for us, as always, in Beijing.

When we come back, a CNN exclusive. Allegations of torture in Belarus, the grim fate of those arrested for protesting against the government.


VAUSE: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

Fears are mounting for the safety of a Belarusian journalist arrested when his flight was diverted to Minsk.

In newly-released video, Roman Protasevich confessed to organizing anti-government mass riots and says he is being treated fairly. But according to family and supporters, the video confession was made under duress.

Protasevich was arrested Sunday, after his Ryanair Flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Belarus. The 26-year-old is among dozens of activists who've been campaigning in exile against president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. He is accused of rigging last year's election, followed by a brutal crackdown on dissent.

The U.S. President Joe Biden condemned this incident in the strongest possible terms, calling it a direct affront to international norms. European Commission president went a step further.


URSULA VAN DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: There will be a very strong answer because it's an outrageous behavior and Lukashenko and his regime have to understand that this will have serious consequences.


VON DER LEYEN: So tonight, we will discuss options, different options of sanctions. Sanctions against individuals that involved in this hijacking, but also sanctions against business and economic entities that are financing these regimes. And we are looking into sanctions against the aviation sector in Belarus.


VAUSE: Protasevich is a key opposition figure whose activism helped fuel anti-government protests in Belarus.

In March, following three months CNN investigation, Nick Paton Walsh had exclusive footage and testimony revealing the authorities' brutal treatment of activists and protesters including rape, beating and denial of medical care. His supporters say the same abuses now await Protasevich.

The government declined to comment for this report, which contains some graphic content.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Somewhere through the icy sludge here is the path to freedom, across the border and out of what has been called Europe's last dictatorship, Belarus.

Some walk if they can. One man, we'll call him Sergei, had no choice but to swim it nearly 3 miles.

Here he stands on sheet ice, free, but in anguish at having to flee after just crossing out of Belarus, into the safety of Ukraine. He films himself in flippers and a wet suit to leave evidence of what he tried, in case he doesn't make it.

"I will try to crawl there," he says, "and hope I won't freeze. I'm navigating by the stars. The feeling is indescribable. I've been going 90 minutes and have a mile left."

Beaten and detained before for protesting and on a wanted list, he had to flee imminent arrest. He can't turn back now. But his testament to how bad things have gotten in Belarus that people feel compelled to make this dark, perilous journey, a run to freedom, the likes of which Europe hasn't really seen since the Soviet Union.

Belarus, caught between Russia and the European Union, has been ruled for decades by autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko. He declared victory in August elections the U.S. said were fraudulent.

Huge protests followed and he moved swiftly to crush them. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin are two peas in a pod when it comes to shutting down dissent. So, Putin swiftly helped his skiing partner with $1.5 billion, another unspecified aid.

Months of systematic repression and torture followed, documented by human rights groups. CNN has obtained from defected police officers videos exposing abuse leaked from the police's own archives.

Here, the white SUV is full of activists fleeing a protest crackdown. Riot police pounce. One fires a gun.

The ferocity is startling. Some kicked where they lie. Another has had his face rubbed into the ground. Most lie incredibly still. They are then detained.

In custody, CNN was told mistreatment ranges from extreme cold in cramped cells to being beaten severely and sexual assault. Andre endured on another day perhaps the worst abuse in the back of a police van. He refused to unlock his phone, so they cut open his pants and raped him with a baton.

"It was hard to move at all, because I had been heavily beaten. He cut my underwear using this knife. He asked me to give the password again, I refused. And then he did what he did.

It's not just anger, police train to do this. We are just seeing it now at a huge scale, for the first time. It's touched nearly every family in Belarus."

Custody is often brutal. Detainees for an October protest were filmed by police and forced to face the wall inside a central police station. Some bleeding. One with seven teeth smashed in. Some ravaged by tear gas.

Many here told us they were later beaten in custody. Some had fled Belarus. But you can also see, a teenage boy motionless on the floor. Witnesses told CNN, he had likely had an epileptic fit but the police ignored him. Occasionally kicking him and saying are you a boy or a girl? A minor, he was released later.

In these rooms, police are still tracking down protesters. One we'll call Anya, you can see her here running from riot police. The stun grenade, hit her leg badly.

In hospital, doctors gave her little help, she said. But tested her blood for alcohol then rang the police to say she was a likely protester. She fled home. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got a phone call from the police asking where I

had been. I began making up stories. They said they would come and get me, a unit of them. And if they take me, I thought, then I could say goodbye to my limbs because no one will look after me.


WALSH: Police ferocity in Belarus, a riot squad descending on a car here, has slowly and quietly swamped a generation desperate for a new life.

The U.S. has imposed commonplace sanctions on the Kremlin, its usual (INAUDIBLE) of fear. It's an early test for President Biden, which method will went out.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN -- Kiev, Ukraine.


VAUSE: We should note that report was filed in March. And since then, the planned protests have drawn far fewer people than expected.

Well, British Black Lives Matter activist Sasha Johnson is in critical condition after being shot in the head in London, according to a political party which she's affiliated with. The Taking the Initiative Party says the attack happened following numerous death threats as a result of her activism.

But London's metropolitan police earlier said that at this early stage of the investigation, there is no evidence to suggest a targeted attack, or that the woman had received any credible threats against her prior to this incident.

At a vigil hosted by Black Lives Matter U.K. on Monday, supporters chanted, "no justice, no peace" and they held Johnson as a fearless political campaigner.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is one of the new generation of activists who has come with a particular type of energy and drive which has captured the imagination of many, many people.

Whether it was targeted or she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the fact is, that nobody is spraying bullets into white communities. But it's a regular occurrence within the black communities. So, we should be very concerned.


VAUSE: Well, still to come, an American journalist in Myanmar has been detained as he was trying to leave the country. And now, there is fears he's housed in a notorious political (ph) prison; (INAUDIBLE) on the case of Danny Fenster.


VAUSE: The family of an American journalist detained in Myanmar says it's a nightmare. Danny Fenster was planning to fly home to surprise his parents. They've not seen each other for two years.

Now, it's believed he's being held in one of Myanmar's notorious prisons. Fenster is among a handful of foreign journalists detained in Myanmar since the military seized power back in February.

One rights group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, says the country's security forces have killed more than 800 people since protests against the coup broke out.

CNN's Anna Coren, live for us with the very latest on the situation there. She is in Hong Kong.

So Anna, this is one of those situations where they don't really know why he was detained. You can sort of make a pretty safe guess, it's because of, you know, committing journalism. But apart of from that it's sort of no one really knows why.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. His family haven't heard from him nor has his workplace, "Frontier Myanmar", this online -- independent online news Website, which has been chronicling what has been going on in Myanmar Obviously ever since that coup took place on the 1st of February, ousting the civilian government, ousting its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.


COREN: And then all these protests, you know, it poured out into the streets. Initially, it was peaceful and then the military came along, and forcibly, and violently, tried to stamp it out.

And as you say, more than 800 people have died, more than 4,200 have been detained. And John, there are arrest warrants out for 1,800 people.

But when it comes to journalists, there are four foreign nationals who have been detained. Danny Fenster is the latest. This 37-year-old American from Detroit. He was boarding a plane to Kuala Lumpur, then on to the United States, when authorities arrested him at Yangon International Airport.

As I say, his family and the workplace have (ph) heard from him. The U.S. State Department is aware of his detainment. But are refusing to comment because of the sensitive nature of the case.

To date, John, more than 80 journalists have been arrested. And Danny is being held at Insein prison, which houses more than 10,000 prisoners in these squalid conditions.

There are reports of torture that is carried out at this prison. Hundreds of these prisoners are political prisoners. Joining Danny in Insein prison is Nathan Maung, he's also a U.S. national who was arrested back in March. He is still in this prison as well.

John, this played out the same day that Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court in Naypyidaw. It's the first time that she has appeared in person. Prior to that, she was appearing via video link.

Her lawyers say that she was in good health, that she certainly struck a defiant tone when she spoke to them. She was allowed to hold a private meeting with them for half an hour.

She is facing a range of charges. The most serious John, is breaching the Official Secrets Act which alone has a prison term of 14 years.

You know, the chaos, the bloodshed, the killing continues in Myanmar, John.

VAUSE: Yes. Anna thank you. Anna Coren in Hong Kong, appreciate it. Thank you.

Danny's brother, Bryan Fenster, is with us now from Detroit, Michigan. Bryan, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

I imagine it's not easy right now, especially for your parents. How is the family holding up? How is everyone coping?

BRYAN FENSTER, BROTHER OF DANNY FENSTER: We are hanging in there. A lot of dark humor is getting us through today.

You know, as to be expected, it is hard for parents, for my parents, but we're getting through, very encouraged with all the support at home here, and across the globe. It's been pretty unbelievable to see all the support coming in.

VAUSE: Danny is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, that's an independent news outlet. The chief editor believes Danny may have been transferred to what they call Insein prison. Three years in 2018 Frontier, his outlet, reported this. "Insein has quite an infamous reputation mainly because of the effect on inmates, the lack of hygiene, and the regular use of torture especially when the country was under military rule."

Well, Myanmar is back under military rule. So clearly, if this is the case, that's the concern. What have you been able to confirm about his location?

FENSTER: Nothing much, unfortunately. We pretty much have the statement from Frontier Myanmar, that's what we've been working off of. That's what we've been using when working with elected officials here in Michigan. Senator Gary Peters and his team, and some other delegates from the area.

So firstly, we don't have much information, definitely trying not to speculate on what could be but just very hopeful with all the support we'll be getting him as soon as possible.

VAUSE: Was Danny, do you know, was he a hands-on editor, was he out and about reporting the story on the coup. Or was he mostly sort of back at the office in an oversight role?

And the reason why I ask, I'm trying to look at if there was a particular story with his byline which may have sort of angered the military leaders there. Or maybe it was just the collective output from Frontier which they didn't like. I mean do you have any idea here?

FENSTER: Not really. As far as I know when him and I, we talk a few days a week. So, you know, he was at the desk, editing. He wasn't boots on the ground at any of the protest.

But, you know, I can only assume, being a journalist in a country that's run by the military, who wants to control the narrative, he was flagged being a journalist when he was at the airport. So, I can't begin to imagine why it happened.


VAUSE: You said you spoke a couple times a week. At any point as the situation in Myanmar has progressively got more violent, more dangerous, has he expressed any concern to you about his own safety?

FENSTER: Not about his own safety, but he was always very good about giving us a heads up. Hey, this is going to be in the headlines, everything will be fine. I'll touch base as soon as I can. So it was pretty alarming to have messages from his spouse this morning and coworkers with all this craziness.

VAUSE: And he was at the airport. He just heading out of Myanmar to try and meet up with your mom and dad, I think. It was a surprise, right?

FENSTER: Yes. Yes. He was going to quarantine a few days in Chicago with a friend, and then make his way back home here to surprise mom, dad and his niece and nephew.

VAUSE: Last month, the Community to Protect Journalists said that Myanmar's military regime has almost overnight become one of the worst jailers of journalists worldwide with at least 40 members of the press held behind bars.

It is blunt and inhumane censorship, aimed at keeping Myanmar's citizens to go public in the dark about the junta's often brutal activities.

According to the CPJ, all but two of the detained journalists were in fact locals, but foreign reporters were eventually deported after a fairly short period of time. Does that give you much reason to be hopeful here?

FENSTER: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I mean the people we have been able to get in contact. including his spouse, who's a Brazilian diplomat, are very, very, very quite hopeful.

And again, he's on valid work papers, valid visas, passports, everything. And he was voluntarily and leaving the country, to come visit family. So again, we can't see what the issue is.

VAUSE: And just in terms of negotiations, what's happening in terms of trying to secure his release, has there been contact made directly between, you know, the U.S. State Department and officials in Myanmar?

FENSTER: I believe so. We've been in contact with some people, and the State Department is definitely aware of what's going on and is working -- working on the issue.

VAUSE: Well, Bryan, we wish you and your family, your parents especially, all the best. And for a quick release of Danny as well. Thank you for being with us.

FENSTER: We appreciate the interest and all the support. Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, a manslaughter investigation is underway in Italy after 14 people died in a horrific cable car crash. The car was completing a 20-minute journey in the Western Alps when the cable snapped. The car plummeted into the side of a mountain, only one person survived, that was a child reported to be in stable, but serious condition in hospital.

Well, more than 200 people have been injured, after two trains collided in the Malaysia's capital. According to state media one train was on a test run. It hit another train which is carrying passengers, both were moving around 40 kilometers an hour when they crashed in a tunnel.

Still to come, a powerful tropical cyclone slammed India last week, another is on the way. The very latest forecast with Pedram Javaheri in a moment.


VAUSE: Aftershocks continue to rattle the Democratic Republic of Congo and in neighboring Rwanda after a volcano eruption this past weekend. According to Reuters at least 32 people have died. Thousands have fled and many are now trying to figure out if it's safe to return to Goma.

(INAUDIBLE) believe around 600 homes and five schools, have also been destroyed. The government says, the lava has damaged 17 village.


VAUSE: Another tropical cyclone, poised to strike India just a week or so after a deadly storm slammed its west coast. The country's national and state disaster response team preparing for the cyclone, expected to intensify to a very severe cyclonic storm.

Pedram Javaheri with us now for more on this. So it was the west coast about 10 days ago. It's the east coast this time.


Now this storm system too, it has about 24 hours, John, before it makes landfall across this region of eastern India. And the concern is, the condition there absolutely ripe for a storm that is just shy of what would be a category one hurricane to strengthen and get up to possibly a category 3 equivalent and make landfall there across the very densely populated region as a severe cyclonic storm.

So here's what we're looking at. Water temperatures, in this region of the Bay of Bengal among the warmest of any location on earth, sitting at 34 degrees Celsius -- that's 93 degrees Fahrenheit, incredibly warm waters, absolutely conducive for rapid intensification of the storm system.

And you'll notice where we are right now, and notice how quickly this kind of winds up and gets that eyewall as it forms and strengthens approaching now the eastern border there of (INAUDIBLE) and western areas of west Bengal. That is where we think landfall is possible, around the towns of Paradip (ph) possibly a little east toward Balasor (ph) population there about a quarter of a million people. And of course, just a little farther toward the east in Kolkata, not only do we have the third highest positivity rate for COVID right now, about 34 percent but also, third highest metro population for the entire country there, at over 15 million.

So, certainly, a lot of people stand to be impacted, based on just any variation of this storm. But at this point, we're looking at landfall there across eastern Naresha (ph) comes in again, winds possibly between 130 to 150 kilometers per hour at landfall.

Tremendous rainfall also going to come ashore with this particular storm and you will notice it was almost exactly a year ago this week, Tampan (ph) mad landfall across this region, that was closer to Kolkata, came ashore with winds that were also in similar range. That storm left behind over 10 fatalities and $13 billion in losses.

This storm again skirts a little farther towards the west, rainfall amounts could exceed a half a meter in some of these areas. and of course, this is the pre-monsoon season. So going to see plenty of rain over this region in the coming weeks and months.

But you will notice with the forecast, it kind of plays out here with plenty of rainfall, we keep those temperatures at bay.

I often talk about every single one of those raindrops does take energy out of the atmosphere, cools the temperatures off. Unfortunately, there's going to be a lot of it the next few days and then temps rebound back up into the middle thirties, John.

VAUSE: Pedram, thank you. Pedram Javaheri there with the very latest. Thank you.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. Please stay with us. I will be back for another hour of news from all around the world after a short break.

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