One of the Lukashenka regime’s Belarusian courts on Friday sentenced Sofia Sapega, the girlfriend of a dissident detained after their commercial flight was forced to land in Belarus last year, to six years in prison for what it dubbed “inciting social hatred”, the Vyasna rights group said.
The 24-year-old Russian citizen has remained in Belarusian custody ever since May 2021 when, a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was grounded by Belarusian forces with her and her boyfriend Raman Pratasevich, a dissident blogger critical of Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, on board.
What prompted the Belarusian authorities to ground the plane was, allegedly, an anonymous tip-off that there was a bomb on board. In the end, the explosives threat turned out to be false, and Pratasevich and Sapega were immediately detained. The shenanigans were met with international outrage leading the EU and the US to impose more sanctions on Belarus.
Exiled Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reacted to the Belarusian court’s ruling saying in a tweet that she was “sorry for Sofia and her family. No one should suffer from dictatorship.”
A year after the unprecedented @Ryanair aircraft hijack in Minsk, the regime sentenced Sofia Sapega to 6 years in prison. She became collateral damage to Lukashenka's attack on her boyfriend Pratasevich. I am sorry for Sofia & her family. No one should suffer from dictatorship. pic.twitter.com/G9YLqy5iyf
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) May 6, 2022
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said Ms 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.
When asked, whether he thought the verdict was fair, Mr Peskov replied: “We greatly dislike it when someone comments on the decisions of our courts, so we will not comment on the decision of the court in friendly Belarus.”
‘A rare bastard has seized power in Belarus’: Russian oppositionist
While Mr Peskov came across as rather lenient to the ruling, Russian oppositionists criticised their country for not intervening in the case of Ms Sapega despite claims it is protecting Russians abroad, one of the reasons Moscow has used to justify its military campaign in Ukraine.
“The Russian foreign ministry did not take any steps to get her out of the clutches of Lukashenka,” allies of jailed opposition activist Andrei Pivovarov wrote on his Twitter account.
“Six years for being in love [with Pratasevich],” tweeted Gennady Gudkov a former lawmaker and member of the liberal opposition. “A rare bastard has seized power in Belarus,” he added, referring to Lukashenka.
Meanwhile, Mr Pratasevich is still awaiting trial and the direction where the investigation is going could be subject to speculation, nothing more.
The blogger, who fled Belarus in 2019, had worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on the Telegram messenger app. The channel, which is openly hostile to Lukashenka, played an important role in broadcasting and coordinating huge opposition protests in 2020.
The mass protests were sparked by anger over what the opposition said was a rigged presidential election that gave Lukashenka his sixth term in power.
Lukashenka denied stealing the election and cracked down on the opposition, whose leading members were jailed or forced to flee.
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