Sofia Sapega: Belarus jails girlfriend of dissident blogger seized after forced Ryanair plane landing

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Student Sofia Sapega poses for a picture in Gothenburg (REUTERS)
Student Sofia Sapega poses for a picture in Gothenburg (REUTERS)

A Belarusian court has sentenced Sofia Sapega, the girlfriend of a dissident detained on a Ryanair flight, to six years in prison for “inciting social hatred”.

The 24-year-old Russian citizen was with her boyfriend Roman Protasevich, a critic of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, on a flight from Athens to Vilnius in May 2021 when it was diverted to Minsk by Belarusian authorities.

Belarus claimed it had been responding to an anonymous tip off that a bomb was onboard the plane, but this later turned out to be false.

The incident on the flight prompted international outrage and led to the European Union imposing further sanctions on Belarus.

“I am sorry for Sofia and her family. No one should suffer from dictatorship,” exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter after Friday’s verdict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sapega would get assistance but declined to comment on the sentence itself.

"She is a citizen of Russia, so in any case, through our diplomats and other channels, we will continue to protect her legitimate interests," he told reporters on a conference call.

Asked, whether he thought the verdict was fair, Mr Peskov said: "We greatly dislike it when someone comments on the decisions of our courts, so we will not comment the decision of the court in friendly Belarus."

Mr Protasevich has yet to go on trial and the status of the investigation against him is unclear.

The blogger fled Belarus in 2019 and had previously worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on the Telegram messenger app. The channel is openly hostile to Lukashenko and played an important role in coordinating opposition protests in 2020.

The mass protests were sparked by anger over what the opposition said was a rigged presidential election that gave Lukashenko his sixth term in power.

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