Belarusian Rights Group Declares Sapega A Political Prisoner

The Belarusian rights group Vyasna has designated Sofia Sapega a political prisoner after a passenger flight she was on from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to Minsk, where she was detained along with her boyfriend, journalist Raman Pratasevich.

The Minsk-based human rights group said Sapega, a Russian national, and four others had been added to its list of political prisoners, as their detention should be considered “as politically motivated persecution in connection with the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and expression of their opinion on the announced results of the presidential elections in the Republic of Belarus.”

Sapega and Prasatevich, who Vyasna had already declared a political prisoner, have been held in detention since May 23, when their plane was diverted to the Belarusian capital.

In a video circulated by pro-government Telegram channels on May 25, Sapega said she was an editor of an opposition Telegram channel, the Black Book of Belarus, which publishes personal information about security officials who help authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka stay in power in a disputed election last year.

The 23-year-old, who has been remanded in pretrial detention for two months after being charged with a criminal offense, looked uncomfortable and spoke quickly while delivering the comments, prompting opposition officials to say the statements appear forced.

Opposition leaders have said that a similar statement by Pratasevich on May 24 also looked forced and that he appeared to have been tortured.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Ekho Moskvy on May 27 that a Russian consul was granted access to Sapega.

“We are doing everything to ensure that the Russian national’s rights are respected,” Zakharova said.

Vyasna said the four others designated as political prisoners are Alyaksandr Khrapko, Ihar Vinokurov, Eduard Kudynyuk, and Alyaksandr Vinyarski. All have been detained for their participation in protests against Lukashenka, whom opposition leaders say rigged a president election in August 2020 to claim his sixth consecutive term in power.

The EU, United States, Canada, and other Western countries have imposed sanctions against the regime of Lukashenka, who has led a violent crackdown on dissent in the country since mass protests broke out over the disputed results of the presidential election.

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