Belarus arrests girlfriend of dissident blogger who was arrested after a Ryanair plane was forced to land

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

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

Belarus claimed it was responding to an anonymous tip that there was a bomb on board the plane, but this was later found to be false.

The incident on the flight sparked international outrage and led to the EU imposing further sanctions on Belarus.

“I feel sorry for Sofia and her family. No one should suffer under a dictatorship,” exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya tweeted after Friday’s verdict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ms Sapega will get help but declined to comment on the verdict itself.

“She is a Russian citizen, so we will certainly continue to protect her legitimate interests through our diplomats and other channels,” he told reporters on a conference call.

When asked if he thought the verdict was fair, Mr. Peskov said: “We don’t like it when anyone comments on the decisions of our courts, so we will not comment on the court’s decision in friendly Belarus.”

Mr Protasevich has yet to be brought to justice and the status of the investigation against him is unclear.

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

The trigger for the mass protests was anger at the presidential elections, which the opposition said were manipulated and which gave Lukashenko his sixth term in office.

© evening standard Belarus arrests girlfriend of dissident blogger who was arrested after a Ryanair plane was forced to land

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