Family and friends of Russian citizen Sofia Sapega - who was detained alongside her boyfriend Roman Protasevich on the Ryanair flight which was forcibly diverted to Minsk on Sunday - are saying she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Since the pair's arrests, Western powers have condemned what they called an act of "state piracy" and a "hijacking" of an airliner, with the EU ready to heap more sanctions on the Lukashenko government and with European flights now avoiding Belarusian airspace altogether over safety concerns. The whole bizarre episode appears to be leading toward another major diplomatic "Navalny-style showdown" between the West and Russia and its allies, given especially Putin's vocal support for embattled Lukashenko over the past months since the disputed election.
According to Reuters, "Sapega is a student at a university in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. She was flying there on Sunday with Protasevich after their holiday in Greece to defend her master's thesis ahead of graduation, according to the university."
Russia's Foreign Ministry has since confirmed that 23-year old Sapega is a Russian national and is facing charges in Belarus along with her boyfriend "in connection with the suspicion of having committed, between August and September 2020, offences under several articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code," according to an official statement.
Protasevich was an influential figure in independent and opposition Belarusian media reporting, specifically via a popular Telegram channel, which helped fuel massive anti-Lukashenko protests since his controversial re-election to a sixth term late last summer (which will extend his 27-years in power).
Sofia Sapega stands accused of assisting Protasevich in helping to organize protests, but also publishing personal information of law enforcement personnel to the internet, which is a crime in Belarus.
Within a couple days after their detention, videos appeared online of the two "confessing" to a litany of crimes which has outraged the Belarusian opposition as it has the hallmarks of a forced confession, given also it's expected to come with significant prison sentences.
Belarus release a video of Roman Protasevich claiming that he is in good health and being treated lawfully. He also acknowledges he was at the protests and is cooperating with the govt.— Bianna Golodryga (@biannagolodryga) May 24, 2021
This has all the hallmarks of a forced confession and I can only imagine how fearful he is. https://t.co/1wIwQsvSJG
The two are facing charges related to organizing riots which could bring 15 years in prison...
#Belarus @novaya_gazeta reported that Sofia Sapega might be charged under two articles - plotting riots (up to 15 years in prison) and organisation of action that violate public order. “Riots” in Belarus are organised by 26-year old bloggers and 23-year-old students. Interesting pic.twitter.com/d9Eajw2ERP— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) May 26, 2021
They are expected to be kept in pre-trial detention for up to months, while Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya issued a statement through a spokesman from neighboring Lithuania saying of Sapega that "She is guilty of being a friend of Roman. And they forced her to confess to 'crimes' she did not commit."
Various leaders have weighed in on the pair's fate in particular in the wake of the "confession" videos, with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson denouncing Belarus: "The video of Roman Protasevich makes for deeply distressing viewing. As a journalist and a passionate believer in freedom of speech I call for his immediate release." And he added a moment the EU and multiple Western governments are preparing further sanctions: "Belarus' actions will have consequences."
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But many others are pointing out the glaring hypocrisy and very selective reading of recent history when it comes to the unified "outrage" generated with this fresh Belarus saga...
I spoke today to @krystalball and @esaagar about the extreme, glaring similarities between what Belarus did to force the landing of the Ryanair plane and what the US/EU did in 2013 to force the Bolivian President's plane to land in order to nab Snowden:https://t.co/VZB84vmTm4— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 25, 2021