Father of woman arrested off plane in Belarus appeals to Lukashenko for her release

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FILE PHOTO: A view shows a woman who names herself Sofia Sapega at an unknown location
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The father of a woman who was arrested along with a dissident journalist in Belarus after the grounding of a Ryanair flight has appealed to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to meet him in person and to pardon his daughter.

Sofia Sapega, 23-year-old a student, was arrested on May 23 with her boyfriend, blogger Roman Protasevich, when their plane was forced to land in Belarus. The incident prompted outrage in the West.

Belarus has released videos of Protasevich, who rose to prominence during mass protests last summer, confessing to staging riots to try to topple Lukashenko. The opposition says the confessions were clearly obtained under duress.

Sapega, a Russian national, is being held in a Belarusian KGB detention facility in Minsk and is accused of inciting social strife. She could face years in jail.

Her father, Andrei Sapega, 53, appealed to Lukashenko as "a father to a father" in a video posted on Thursday. Russia's PrimaMedia news agency said he had recorded the appeal at its offices in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East.

"Alexander Grigorievich, I ask you for mercy. Enough of the cruelty, the world has been overflowing with it lately. Any sensible person understands that Sofia was in the wrong place and with the wrong person," he said.

Andrei Sapega said he wanted to meet Lukashenko so he could offer guarantees that his daughter would not be involved in anything seen by Belarus as illegal.

"...Maybe I will be able to persuade (Lukashenko) to pardon my daughter. Don't ruin her life, she's just a little girl who is only starting to live," he said.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff)

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