Minsk extends house arrest for detained Russian girlfriend of dissident blogger

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Belarus has extended the house arrest for a Russian student who was detained when Minsk ordered a forced landing of a Ryanair flight to arrest a dissident blogger, the BBC’s Russian service reported.

Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, 23, was stopped alongside her boyfriend, Belarusian opposition blogger Roman Protasevich, in May. The couple were traveling together from Athens to Lithuania, where they were living in exile.

Minsk authorities have extended Sapega’s house arrest until December 25, her mother Anna Dudich Recount the BBC.

Sapega faces three charges: organization of breaches of public order, incitement to hatred and organization of mass unrest, each punishable by maximum penalties ranging from three to 15 years in prison.

Protasevich founded the independent telegram channel Nexta, which Belarusian strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko said played a key role in organizing the mass street protests that rocked the country last summer.

Ryanair plane’s forced landing in May propelled besieged Lukashenko into international news scandal, prompting the condemnation of dozens of Western leaders and resulting in airspace bans of most major Western carriers.

While the Kremlin has previously said Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the Sapega case with Lukashenko, there have been few signs of sustained pressure from Minsk’s main supporter, Moscow.

Protests erupted across Belarus last summer after Lukashenko claimed victory in a presidential election widely condemned by critics at home and abroad as fraudulent. Western countries have imposed rounds of sanctions on Belarus, including its key industries, due to the Lukashenko regime’s brutal crackdown on protests.

All opposition leaders were arrested or fled the country before the vote while thousands of Belarusians fled to countries like Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine after the elections.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who came out against Lukashenko after her husband was imprisoned while leading a presidential campaign, claims to be the real winner and now lives in exile.

Russia has become an even more crucial supporter of Belarus and Lukashenko since his contested re-election and the regime’s aggressive crackdown on its critics.


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