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Russian national Sofia Sapega, jailed in Belarus after forced landing of jet, pardoned and released

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Alexander Lukashenko has signed a decree pardoning convicted Russian national Sofia Sapega. On June 7, she was handed over to a delegation from Russia’s Primorsky Krai, headed by Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, reported Belarusian state-run news agency Belta.

“There's a whole life ahead of [you]. A conscious and normal life,” said Kozhemyako. According to Belta, he advised Sapega “not to make any more imprudent steps.” Sapega herself said that she first wants to recover and come to her senses.

Lukashenko had previously refused to pardon Sapega in January this year.

Sofia Sapega found herself under investigation along with Belarusian opposition blogger and the former head of Telegram channel Nexta Roman Protasevich after they were taken off a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius on May 23, 2021, by direct order of Alexander Lukashenko. A fighter jet escorted the passenger plane to Minsk National Airport, where the pair was detained.

Protasevich was accused of inciting social hatred, organizing mass riots and actions that “grossly violate public order.” Sapega was charged with inciting social hatred as well as taking part in mass riots. The couple began to cooperate with the investigation, and were released under house arrest, Roman Protasevich then made multiple appearances on Belarusian state media. On the air of the ONT TV channel, he said that he respected Alexander Lukashenko and considered him “a man with balls of steel.”

Sapega was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of illegally collecting and disseminating “information about [one’s] private life that constitutes personal and family secrets, without their consent, causing harm to the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the victim.”

According to the prosecution, Sapega was involved in the administration of the “Black Book of Belarus,” a Telegram channel that published the personal data of security forces involved in the abuse of protesters. In April 2023, Sapega was extradited to Russia, where she continued serving her sentence up until her release.

Sofia Sapega is a Russian citizen from Vladivostok – prior to her conviction, she lived in Vilnius and studied law at European Humanities University. Sapega held residence permits in both Lithuania and Belarus.

Roman Protasevich was sentenced to eight years in a penal colony. He was pardoned on May 22, 2023.

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