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  • Lukashenka Pardons Russian Jailed After Forced Landing Of Commercial Flight

    MINSK -- Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has pardoned Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who was serving a six-year prison term in Belarus on charges related to civil disturbances that followed a disputed 2020 presidential election.

    Sape­ga was hand­ed to a del­e­ga­tion from Rus­si­a’s Far East­ern region of Pri­morye on June 7 after she was released from prison fol­low­ing Lukashenka’s decree par­don­ing her, the BelTA state news agency said.

    She thanked Lukashen­ka for par­don­ing her, allow­ing her to return home, and giv­ing her a sec­ond chance, accord­ing to BelTA.

    Ear­li­er reports said the Russ­ian and Belaru­sian author­i­ties had agreed to allow Sape­ga to serve her prison term in Rus­sia.

    Sape­ga and her then-boyfriend, dis­si­dent blog­ger Raman Prata­se­vich, were detained after their com­mer­cial flight from Athens to Vil­nius was forced to land in Min­sk in May 2021.

    Sape­ga was accused of admin­is­ter­ing a chan­nel on Telegram that pub­lished the per­son­al data of Belaru­sian secu­ri­ty forces. She was sen­tenced in May 2022.

    Belarus said it had ordered the plane to land after an anony­mous bomb threat. Evi­dence lat­er revealed Belaru­sian offi­cials con­spired to fake the bomb threat as a pre­tense for divert­ing the plane so they could detain the two.

    Prata­se­vich, who fled Belarus in 2019, worked as an edi­tor at the Poland-based Nex­ta Live chan­nel on Telegram that exten­sive­ly cov­ered the vio­lent crack­down on unprece­dent­ed protests in Belarus fol­low­ing an August 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that the oppo­si­tion and West­ern gov­ern­ments say was stolen by Lukashen­ka, who has run the coun­try with an iron fist since 1994.

    Last month, Prata­se­vich told jour­nal­ists he had received a par­don from Lukashen­ka.

    In ear­ly May, a Min­sk court sen­tenced Prata­se­vich to eight years in prison, and his co-defen­dants, Stsya­pan Put­si­la and Yan Rudzik, who were tried in absen­tia, to 20 years and 19 years in prison respec­tive­ly, on charges stem­ming from their online cov­er­age of the 2020 anti-Lukashen­ka protests.

    Lukashen­ka has denied steal­ing the elec­tion and has since cracked down hard on the oppo­si­tion, whose lead­ing mem­bers were either jailed or forced to flee the coun­try in fear of their safe­ty.

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