Ryanair victim jailed for six years over Russia row

Ryanair victim jailed for six years over Russia row

The Russian girlfriend of a Belarusian dissident arrested when their Ryanair plane was forced to land in Minsk was sentenced to six years in prison yesterday.

Sofia Sapega, 24, was detained alongside her Belarusian opposition activist boyfriend Roman Protasevich in May last year when their flight from Greece to Lithuania was grounded as it passed over Belarus.

Following a closed-door trial, a court in Belarus sentenced her to six years, rights group Vyasna said.

After her arrest, Miss Sapega cooperated with authorities and appealed to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for her release.

Mr Protasevich, 27, fled to Europe in 2019 from where he co-ran the Nexta Telegram channels, a key Belarus opposition media that helped mobilise protesters during historic rallies against the disputed re-election of Lukashenko in 2020.

After their arrests, both dissidents appeared in ‘confession’ videos that their supporters said were recorded under duress and are a common tactic of the regime to pressure critics.

Mr Protasevich remains under house arrest in Belarus awaiting trial.

Minsk was accused of ‘hijacking’ the flight after it was escorted to the ground by a MiG-29 fighter jet. The pilot was told by Belarusian air traffic control of a threat to detonate a bomb onboard if it continued to Lithuania. No explosive was ever found.

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