The girlfriend of the Belarusian government critic Roman Protassevich, who was arrested in Belarus, has asked ruler Alexander Lukashenko for a pardon after a year in prison. According to the state newspaper “Sovietskaya Belarus”, the 24-year-old Russian Sofia Sapega addressed the plea for clemency to Lukashenko on Monday, shortly after his meeting with Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg.
Sapega was arrested in May last year when a European passenger plane was forced to land in Minsk.
In the plea for clemency, she wrote, according to a report by the BBC’s Russian-language service on Monday, that her opposition activities were due to “youth and stupidity”. In the meantime, she has “completely understood illegality and illegitimacy”. It remained unclear under what conditions the letter was written in detention.
In May, after a closed-door trial, Sapega was sentenced to six years in prison, including on charges of “inciting social hatred”. The Russian ran an opposition channel critical of the government on the Telegram messenger service.
Her arrest – together with her then partner Roman Protassewitsch – caused an international sensation. The two were on a flight within Europe in a Ryanair plane that was forced to land over Belarusian territory. The EU therefore imposed an airspace ban on Belarus.
Sapega’s partner Protasevich had also withdrawn his criticism of Lukashenko, the long-term ruler, and apologized. Observers attribute the supposed change of heart to massive pressure from the authorities.
Protasevich used to be the editor-in-chief of the opposition Telegram news channel Nexta. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were mobilized via this channel after the presidential election in Belarus in August 2020, which was accompanied by massive allegations of fraud. Protasevich fled his homeland in 2019.
The regime critic Protasevich is accused of having triggered mass protests, which means up to 15 years in prison in Belarus. The secret service also accused him of having been involved in “terrorist activities”. Terrorist offenses carry the death penalty, which is still being carried out in Belarus. The 27-year-old is currently under house arrest awaiting trial.