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 citizen was traveling with her boyfriend Roman Protasevich, a critic of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, on a flight from Athens to Vilnius in May 2021 when he was diverted to Minsk by Belarusian authorities.
Belarus claimed that it had been responding to an anonymous tip that there was a bomb on board the plane, but this later turned out to be false.
The incident on the flight sparked international outrage and prompted the EU to impose further sanctions on Belarus.
“I feel sorry for Sofia and her family. No one should suffer a dictatorship,” exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter after Friday’s verdict.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sapega would receive help 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 in a conference call.
Asked if he thought the verdict was fair, Peskov said: “We really like it when someone comments on our court decisions, so we will not comment on the court’s decision in friendly Belarus.”
Protasevich has not yet been tried 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 messaging app. The channel is openly hostile to Lukashenko and played a major role in coordinating opposition protests in 2020.
The mass protests were sparked by anger at what the opposition said was a rigged presidential election that gave Lukashenko his sixth term in power.
© Evening Standard