Ryanair plane diversion: Girlfriend of Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich given six-year jail term

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By Euronews  with AFP
 Sofia Sapega, who was detained in Minsk with her dissident boyfriend Roman Protasevich, attends a court hearing in Grodno, Belarus.
Sofia Sapega, who was detained in Minsk with her dissident boyfriend Roman Protasevich, attends a court hearing in Grodno, Belarus.   -   Copyright  Credit: Reuters

A Belarusian court on Friday sentenced the Russian girlfriend of opposition figure Roman Protasevich to six years in prison, a year since they were arrested after the Ryanair plane they were travelling on was intercepted by a fighter jet and forced to land in Minsk.

At the end of a trial held behind closed doors in Grodno in western Belarus, Sofia Sapega, was "imprisoned for six years in a general correctional colony", the Belarusian Supreme Court said in a statement.

She was convicted of "inciting social hatred" and illegal collection of personal data, among other charges, the court said.

Sapega, 24, and Protasevich, 27, were arrested in May 2021 in Minsk after their flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted by a Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet.

After the forced landing caused a public outcry and condemnation by the international community, Belarus claimed that it had intercepted the plane after receiving a "bomb threat", but an investigation by a UN agency concluded that it was "deliberately false".

After their arrest, both Protasevich, who had been living in Europe since 2019, and Sapega appeared in videos claiming to have "confessed" to the alleged crimes against the government of Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus' disputed president. Supporters of the pair said the confessions were coerced.

Credit: AP
In this March 26, 2017, file photo, police detain journalist Raman Pratasevich, centre, in Minsk, BelarusCredit: AP

Sopega, who has been on trial since 26 March, has previously agreed to co-operate with the investigation and called on Lukashenko to release her.

Protasevich is a former editor-in-chief of Nexta, a media outlet that played a leading role in the major wave of protests against the 2020 re-election of Lukashenko, who has ruled his country with an iron fist since 1994.

Protasevich is currently under house arrest in Belarus awaiting trial.