Companion of detained dissident journalist may face charges in Belarus, Russia says 

Student Sofia Sapega poses for a picture in Gothenburg, Sweden, in this undated photo taken in 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

May 25, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who was detained along with Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich after their flight was diverted to Minsk on Sunday, may face criminal charges in Belarus, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

Belarus on Sunday scrambled a warplane to intercept a Ryanair passenger jet carrying Protasevich, a journalist critical of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, in an act denounced by Western powers as "state piracy".

Sapega, a 23-year-old student who was travelling with Protasevich, was detained by Minsk "in connection with the suspicion of having committed, between August and September 2020, offences under several articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.

Belarusian authorities have extended Sapega's detention for two months, TASS news agency reported, citing her father, Sergey Dudich.

Sapega is a student at a university in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. She was flying there with Protasevich after their vacation in Greece to defend her master's thesis ahead of graduation, according to the university.

Furious Western powers prepared on Tuesday to heap sanctions on Belarus and cut off their aviation links with the former Soviet republic in response to the diversion of the Ryanair flight and arrest of Protasevich.

His social media feed from exile has been one of the last independent outlets for news about Belarus since a security crackdown on mass protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's rule after a disputed election last year.

Regular demonstrations in Minsk started in August with protesters who wanted Lukashenko to quit after an Aug. 9 election they said was rigged to give him a landslide victory.

About 35,000 people have been detained since then and protests have subsided.

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