Sofia Sapega: Belarus imprisoned a student a year after she shot down the airliner on which she was flying

“The court finds Sapega guilty on charges of “deliberate actions aimed at inciting social hatred and discord on the basis of social affiliation, committed by a group of persons that entailed grave consequences,” the sentence handed down by the Grodno District Court of Belarus says.

The court on Friday also said that Sapieha was found guilty of illegal collection and dissemination of personal data. For this crime, she was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment and also had to pay damages in the amount of 167,500 Belarusian rubles (or approximately 65,000 US dollars). The verdict can be appealed within 10 days.

Last May, Belarusian authorities took an emergency action by diverting a Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece bound for Vilnius, Lithuania, to Minsk, saying there was a bomb threat.

On the flight were Sapega and her partner Roman Protasevich, the founder of the Nexta Telegram channel. Both of them were arrested in Minsk and placed under house arrest at the end of June 2021, TASS reports.

Since then, Protasevich has made several appearances in state or pro-government media. In one video posted on a pro-government social media channel, he says he “confessed” to “organizing the riots” in Minsk, a confession that his family and supporters say was forced.
He was one of dozens of Belarusian journalists and activists in exile who opposed the 27-year rule of Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Nexta helped mobilize protests against Lukashenka and has been labeled “an extremist website in Belarus,” TASS reports.

Sofya Sapega, a Russian student arrested along with a Belarusian activist, is featured in the

The interception of the plane and the arrest of the couple have sparked widespread condemnation of Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator” whose iron grip on his country has grown stronger in recent years.

The protests brought the dictator closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who provided Belarus with hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid. Since then, Belarus has played a key role in Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Asked to comment on Sapieha’s verdict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia “will continue to defend its legitimate interests” because she is a Russian citizen.

“We really don’t like it when someone comments on the decisions of our court, and we will not comment on the decision of the friendly court of Belarus,” Peskov said during a daily call with reporters.

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