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Girlfriend of dissident journalist Roman Protasevich appears in detention video

A young woman detained along with dissident journalist Roman Protasevich has appeared in a video recorded at a Belarusian detention centre.

Sofia Sapega, a 23-year-old a Russian citizen, was with Mr Protasevich, 26, when Belarusian authorities forced their Ryanair flight to land in Minsk, instead of its scheduled destination in Lithuania.

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that she faces charges “in connection with the suspicion of having committed, between August and September 2020, offences under several articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code”.

Her detention was reportedly extended for two months and she appeared in a video posted on a Telegram channel aligned with the Belarusian authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko.

In the video, she admitted being the editor of a social media channel which has revealed personal information of Belarusian law enforcement personnel – a crime in Belarus.

She told the camera: “I am Sapega Sofia Andreevna, I was born on 10 February, 1998.

“I am citizen of the Russian Federation, I live in Lithuania – Vilnius.

“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.”

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Protasevich appears in video after arrest

Ms Sapega’s mother Anna Dudich told Reuters news agency that her daughter was innocent and had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The RIA news agency cited Russia’s embassy to Belarus as saying Ms Sapega was well and has not complained of inappropriate treatment.

Ms Sapega, a student in Vilnius, had been in Greece with Mr Protasevich for a holiday but her university said she was returning to the Lithuanian capital to defend her master’s thesis ahead of graduation.

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‘Lukashenko doesn’t have a political future’

Mr Protasevich, who is also based in Lithuania, appeared on a video on Monday admitting he had played a role in organising anti-government protests in Minsk last year.

His father Dzmitry Protasevich saw the video from his home in Poland, and dismissed it as the result of coercion.

Mr Protasevich’s social media feed had been one of the few independent outlets for news about Belarus since Mr Lukashenko declared victory in an election last August dismissed by many as fraudulent.

The result prompted anti-government protests and about 35,000 people have been arrested since then.

Meanwhile, the act of forcing the plane to land has continued to bring consequences for Belarusian authorities, as some airlines began avoiding the country’s airspace and refusing to land in – or depart from – the country.

Mr Protasevich and Ms Sapega were among more than 100 passengers on board the flight from Athens, Greece, when it was diverted on the orders of Mr Lukashenko on Sunday.

Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the crew there was a bomb threat against the plane and ordered it to land, while authorities sent a warplane as an escort.

Western powers have described the move as “state piracy” and have called for Mr Protasevich to be released.

They have also threatened the former Soviet republic with tougher sanctions.

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