Belarus Dissident's Girlfriend Hears Her Fate in Court

Sofia Sapega gets 6 years behind bars for inciting social hatred; Roman Protasevich's trial pending
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2021 8:06 AM CDT
Updated May 6, 2022 10:57 AM CDT

Update: It's been a year since the plane on which Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend were flying was forced to land so the pair could be detained by Belarus. Now, the latter has heard her official fate. Sofia Sapega, 24, was sentenced Friday by a Belarusian court to six years behind bars, with the court finding her guilty of inciting social hatred and discord. She was also deemed guilty of "illegally collecting and disseminating information about the private life of an unnamed person without his consent," per the BBC. Protasevich's trial has yet to take place. Our original story from May 2021 follows:

The girlfriend of Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich has also been detained after their Ryanair plane was forced down Sunday by Belarus on its way to Lithuania from Athens. Per Sky News, 23-year-old Sofia Sapega, a Russian national, has now emerged in a "confessional" video, apparently filmed at a Belarus detention center. The video uploaded Tuesday shows Sapega appearing to admit she'd been on the plane with Protasevich, and that she'd worked for a social media channel that gave up information on Belarusian government workers, which is illegal. "I am ... editor of Telegram channel Chernaya Kniga, which publishes private information about internal affairs officers," she said in the clip, after giving her full name, age, and nationality, per a Sky translation. CNN notes Belarus hasn't offered any evidence Sapega, who's reportedly being held in Belarus for at least two months, was tied to the Telegram channel.

Protasevich, 26, a critic of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, appeared in his own apparent confessional video the day prior, noting he was in good health and that he'd helped coordinate 2020 protests in Minsk, per Sky. Allies and family, however, say both Protasevich and Sapega appear to have given these supposed confessions under duress. "This is how Roman looks under physical and moral pressure," opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya tweeted Monday. Sapega's mother concurs, telling the BBC her daughter doesn't seem like herself in her video: "Even my friends called me and said ... this is an unusual manner for her. She sways, eyes in the sky, as if afraid of forgetting something." Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reports that Sapega could face criminal charges, per Insider. Protasevich, meanwhile, fears he could face the death penalty. (Anyone who flies should be concerned about what Belarus did, one columnist writes.)

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