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Belarus pardons jailed student detained in plane diversion

#Belarus #pardons #jailed #student #detained #plane #diversion

Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has pardoned Sofia Sapega, a student arrested with her partner, the dissident Roman Protasevich, when their plane was forcibly grounded in 2021. 

Sapega, a 25-year-old Russian citizen, had been sentenced to six years in prison for “inciting social hatred” and “violence or threats”. 

The Belarusian state-run news agency said Lukashenko signed a decree pardoning Sapega, who was handed over to a delegation from the Primorye region, where she is from. 

“Our compatriot Sofia Sapega received a unique chance to start her life anew. She is free after my appeal,” Oleg Kozhemyako, Primorye’s governor, said on Telegram.

He posted a video of himself greeting Sapega outside an official building in Belarus. 

“It’s not me who you need to thank, but the president,” Kozhemyako said, and Sapega complied, having asked for the pardon in June 2022.

She will fly back to Russia, Kozhemyako said. 

Sapega was detained with Protasevich, a Belarusian opposition activist, in May 2021 when their Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was grounded as it passed over Belarus.

Their arrest triggered international condemnations. 

Protasevich had 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 Lukashenko’s disputed re-election in 2020.

After his arrest, Protasevich is believed to have been coerced by authorities into issuing apologetic statements on state television.

He was pardoned on May 22 after being sentenced to eight years in prison a few weeks earlier. 

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