Pair are being held in detention in Belarus
A young woman who was detained along with Belarus dissident journalist Roman Protasevich when the passenger plane they were travelling on was intercepted by a war jet and diverted to Minsk has appeared in a video at a detention centre.
Sofia Sapega, 23, and Mr Protasevich, 26, were both arrested after their Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in the Belarus capital on Sunday, in a move said to be orchestrated by President Alexander Lukashenko, often described as Europe’s last dictator.
In a video released on a pro-Lukashenko Telegram channel on Monday, Ms Sapega, a Russian student said to be in a relationship with Mr Protasevich, admits to being the editor of a social media channel that has disclosed the personal information of Belarusian law enforcement personnel, a crime in Belarus.
“I am Sapega Sofia Andreevna, I was born on 10 February, 1998,” she says in the clip. “I am citizen of the Russian Federation, I live in Lithuania – Vilnius.”
Ms Sapega adds: “On 23 May, 2021 I flew on the same plane with Roman Protasevich. I am also editor of Telegram channel Chernaya Kniga which publishes private information about internal affairs officers.”
But Ms Sapega’s mother, Anna Dudich, said in an interview on Tuesday that her daughter was innocent and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ms Sapega feels well and has not complained of inappropriate treatment, the RIA news agency reported, citing Russia’s embassy to Belarus. It plans to take all measures to protect and support her, it added.
Ms Sapega is a student at a university in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. She was flying there with Mr Protasevich after their vacation in Greece to defend her masters’ thesis ahead of graduation, according to the university.
Furious Western powers prepared on Tuesday to heap sanctions on Belarus and cut off their aviation links with the former Soviet republic in response to the diversion of the Ryanair flight and arrest of Mr Protasevich.
His social media feed from exile has been one of the last independent outlets for news about Belarus since a security crackdown on mass protests against authoritarian President Lukashenko’s rule after a disputed election last August, widely believed to have been rigged.
Regular demonstrations in Minsk started in August with protesters demanding Lukashenko quit because they said the vote was rigged to give him a landslide victory.
About 35,000 people have been detained since then and protests have subsided.
Additional reporting by Reuters