Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who was arrested when a Ryanair flight was diverted to Belarus, has been moved from jail to house arrest.
Mr Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were seized on 23 May when their flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk because of an alleged bomb threat.
The pair were being held in a Belarusian detention centre, with Mr Protasevich facing a potential 15 years in prison, but have now been moved to separated rented flats under house arrest.
Mr Protasevich ran a messaging channel that was widely used in last year’s massive protests against hardline Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko,
Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called the move to house arrest as “good news,” but stressed it is not the end.
“House arrest is not freedom, they’re still facing charges, their every step is still being watched. It means they’re still hostages,” said Ms Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus for Lithuania last year under pressure from the authorities.
Ms Tsikhanouskaya added her team are in touch with Mr Protasevich’s parents who “aren’t given any information about their son, aren’t allowed to talk to him” and are “convinced that the regime is playing a game, using Roman and Sofia’s lives”.
Ms Sapega’s lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, said: “I think that after the Sochi meeting between two presidents we got these positive movements in Sofia’s case.
“We were waiting for something of such kind to happen. I think it’s the first step towards her complete freedom. I can call it a positive step.
“The investigation is in the active stage now which gives an idea that in the near future some decision on her should be taken.”
Mr Gashinsky added that Ms Sapega needs permission to make calls and he doesn’t know if she has spoken to Mr Protasevich but she has seen her parents.
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“They were meeting in a restaurant in Minsk, they were having dinner and had a good time together. She was monitored but no time limitations for a meeting.
“Her parents feel still feel shocked that it (house arrest/dinner) happened”
On Monday, the UK joined forces with the US, the European Union and Canada in imposing sanctions on Belarusian officials following the forced landing of the Ryanair flight last month.
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The Foreign Office confirmed that seven individuals and one organisation had been sanctioned due to the flight diversion.
A further four individuals and an entity had been sanctioned over human rights abuses in Belarus by Mr Lukashenko’s regime.