Sofia Sapega, the girlfriend of detained journalist Protasevich, ‘confesses’ in video

Sofia Sapega, the girlfriend of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, was detained with him on Sunday when the Ryanair plane they were traveling on was forced to land in Belarus. On Tuesday evening, a video was released in which Sapega makes a ‘confession’ that the opposition says appears to have been made under duress.

Sapega, a 23-year-old Russian citizen, speaks quickly and looks uncomfortable, saying in the video that she is the editor of a Telegram messaging app channel that published the personal details of Belarusian law enforcement personnel, a crime in Belarus .

“Today Sofia was questioned. She was charged with committing a criminal offense. A preventive measure was chosen: imprisonment for a period of two months,” her lawyer Alexander Filanovich told Russian media. No other details were given. “The lawyers have signed nondisclosure agreements,” he said. Sapega is now in a KGB (Belarusian intelligence) pre-trial detention center in the Belarusian capital, he added.

In the video, Sapega states that she is the editor of the Telegram channel Black Book of Belarus, which publishes the personal details of the country’s security forces.

Considering her attitude and manner of speaking during the video, supporters believe she was forced to deliver a script. A similar video featuring Protasevich released Monday was also greeted with skepticism by scientists, family members and human rights groups who say there is little doubt that he was coerced. His father Dzmitry told Reuters he was alarmed when his son’s nose appeared to be broken, “because its shape has changed,” and that his comments are incorrect.

Sapega said to the camera, “I am Sapega Sofia Andreevna, I was born on February 10, 1998. I am a citizen of the Russian Federation, I live in Lithuania – Vilnius.”

“On May 23, 2021, I flew on the same plane with Roman Protasevich.”

“I am also an editor of the Telegram channel Chernaya Kniga, which publishes private information about officials for internal affairs.”

I am shocked. They are holding Raman’s girlfriend Sofia hostage. She is stuck, her lawyer is in contact with her. She is guilty of being Roman’s friend. And they forced her to confess to “crimes” she had not committed. Raman and Sofia must be released immediately. pic.twitter.com/5OiSBkgzEZ

– Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) May 25, 2021

Sapega is in her final year studying international law at the European Humanities University (EHU) in Vilnius. She was on vacation in Greece with Protasevich, a prominent critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko who has ruled Belarus since 1994.

On May 23, they boarded Ryanair flight 4978 traveling from Athens to Vilnius, where Sapega would defend her thesis at EHU.

The airliner was forced to land at Minsk airport on Sunday after pilots were warned of a suspected bomb, a hoax that Western powers have labeled “state piracy.” The Belarusian authorities have sent a jet fighter to escort the plane to Belarus.

‘Made up conditions’

“As a result of a cover-up operation by the Belarusian authorities, the student was detained by the administration of the Minsk City of Inquiry Commission under baseless and made-up circumstances,” said an EHU statement. “We protest against the unjustified detention of the member of the EHU community.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Sapega was being held “in connection with allegations that he committed crimes under various articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code between August and September 2020”.

Protasevich, 26, has been accused of reporting on last August’s disputed elections and subsequent crackdown on mass opposition protests. He has said he fears the death penalty after being placed on a terrorism list.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarusian opposition operating out of nearby Lithuania, said on Twitter that both Protasevich and Sapega appeared to be under psychological pressure.

This is scary. I am concerned about Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega. I am concerned about all political prisoners. It is clear that Raman is being beaten in prison, he and Sofia are under psychological pressure. Lukashenka is terrorizing the entire country. We must fight the regime’s impunity. https://t.co/5GWFyZCsNP

– Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) May 26, 2021

Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Tsikhanouskaya, said on Twitter that Sapega’s confession appeared to have been made under duress.

She’s guilty of being Roman’s friend. And they forced her to admit that she had committed ‘crimes,’ he wrote.

No clear connection has been established between Sapega and Belarus, other than the fact that she is Protasevich’s girlfriend.

Belarusian authorities will hold Sapega in pre-trial detention for two months, the TASS State News bureau reported, citing her father, Sergey Dudich.

Sapega’s mother, Anna Dudich, said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday that her daughter was completely innocent of the claims against her.

From the Belarusian city of Lida, Dudich said she feared for the health and safety of her daughter in detention.

“Of course, this is the main thing I fear right now,” she said. “She’s a very tough girl in a moral sense. She’ll get through it, she’ll take it, I’m sure.”

Neither Dudich nor the attorney have been able to contact Sapega since her detention and have not been made aware of any charges against her.

“My hope now is probably based on a miracle and on the knowledge that my daughter is absolutely guilty of nothing,” said Dudich. “She just appeared in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

A passenger on the diverted flight told Reuters that when Protasevich realized he was about to be arrested, he gave Sapega his laptop and phone for safekeeping.

On the eve of the flight, Sapega called her mother to tell her about her Greek vacation. Then she sent one last text after the plane was forced to land in Belarus.

‘In Minsk she just wrote me’ mama ‘. And that was it.’

( Jowhar with REUTERS)

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