Belarus Sentences Dissident to 8 Years in Penal Colony

Roman Protasevich was arrested in 2021 after an airliner he was on was forced down
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2021 3:35 PM CDT
Updated May 3, 2023 5:59 PM CDT
Belarus President Forces Passenger Jet to Land
Belarus police detain journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk, Belarus, in 2017.   (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
UPDATE May 3, 2023 5:59 PM CDT

A court in Minsk has sentenced an opposition activist whose flight was forced down by Belarus in 2021 so he could be taken into custody to eight years in a penal colony. State media said Wednesday that Roman Protasevich, 27, was charged with organizing mass riots, calling for sanctions against Belarus, creating an extremist group, and conspiring to take power, the New York Times reports. He was the editor of Telegram's Nexta channel at the time, which was used to organize protests against President Alexander Lukashenko. Protasevich's girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, is serving six years.

May 23, 2021 3:35 PM CDT

Belarus forced down an airliner carrying a dissident who co-founded a media outlet popular with the political opposition, the New York Times reports. Roman Protasevich, the journalist and activist, was traveling from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, where he was living in exile. But the Ryanair flight with about 170 passengers was forced to land in Minsk. Under the pretext of responding to a bomb threat, Alexsander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, sent a bomber to escort the plane to the Belarusian capital, where Protasevich was arrested. Lukashenko is the first and only president of Belarus, in power since 1994, longer than Protasevich, 26, has been alive.

Protasevich ran reports of police brutality in Belarus on his Telegram channel Nexta. It was on that channel that he said he believed he was under surveillance, the Washington Post reports. Political leaders in the EU expressed shock that a flight between two European cities could be forcibly diverted. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called it an “act of state terrorism” on Twitter. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, also took to Twitter, calling for an international investigation. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the event was “utterly unacceptable” and called for consequences, Politico reports. (More Alexander Lukashenko stories.)

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