The Russian partner of a Belarusian dissident journalist has appealed to Belarus strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko for a pardon after being sentenced to six years in prison.
In a letter addressed to Lukashenko, 24-year-old student Sofia Sapega said she committed her “crimes” because of “youth and stupidity”, and stated that she was influenced by a “destructive group of people”, seemingly distancing herself from her partner Roman Protasevich.
In the letter made available to local media on Monday, Sapega also expressed a desire to be close to her family in Russia.
Earlier in June, Lukashenko told the local press that he was considering having her deported to her homeland to serve her sentence there, saying that the situation was “a pity for the girl”.
Sapega was arrested together with Protasevich in May 2021 when Belarusian authorities diverted the Ryanair flight en route from Greece to Lithuania and forced it to land in Minsk due to an alleged bomb threat.
Lukashenko called her a “terrorist’s accomplice” at the time, while Russian President Vladimir Putin asked for her case to be “followed closely”.
She was put on trial and found guilty in May of a number of criminal charges including "inciting social hatred" and "violence or threats”.
In a video released by Belarusian authorities, Sapega confessed to being the editor of a Telegram channel called Black Book of Belarus, known for releasing the personal information of the Lukashenko regime's intelligence and security personnel.
Between her arrest and sentencing, Sapega had spent about a year in a Minsk pre-detention centre run by the country’s intelligence service, KGB, leading many to believe that her statements might have been made under duress.
Questions have also been raised about the fairness of her trial, as Lukashenko has been amping up the crackdown against his critics in recent years.
This is not the first time Sapega or her family members have asked for her to be pardoned.
In June 2021, her father Andrey Sapega published a video message for Lukashenko asking for mercy and stating that “any sane person understands that she was in the wrong place with the wrong person.”
Last December, her stepfather Sergey Dudich told the Radio Moskvy radio station that she had already written an appeal for clemency, and stated that the Russian diplomats monitoring the case told him “We’re doing what we can, we knocked everywhere.”
The former editor of the opposition media outlet Nexta and a prominent critic of the Belarusian leader, Protasevich has been under house arrest since May 2021, with the investigation against him said to be ongoing.