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

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

Speaking fast and awkwardly, Sapega, a 23-year-old Russian citizen, says in the video that she is the editor-in-chief of a Telegram messaging app channel that made the personal data of security forces public. order, a crime in Belarus.

“Today Sofia was interrogated. She was charged with committing a criminal offence. A preventive measure was chosen – detention for a period of two months,” her lawyer Alexander Filanovich told Russian media. No other details were given. “The lawyers have signed non-disclosure agreements,” he said. Sapega is currently in a KGB (Belarusian intelligence service) remand center in the Belarusian capital, he added.

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

Given her demeanor and speaking style during the video, supporters believe she was forced to deliver a script. A similar video featuring Protasevich posted on Monday has also been met with skepticism by academics, family members and human rights groups who say there is no doubt he was coerced . His father Dzmitry told Reuters he was alarmed as his son’s nose appeared to have been broken, “because its shape had changed”, and his comments were off the mark.

Sapega told 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 took the same plane as Roman Protasevich.”

“I am also the editor of the Telegram channel Chernaya Kniga which publishes private information on internal affairs officers.”

Sapega is in her final year of studying international law at the European Humanities University (EHU) in Vilnius. She was vacationing 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 was to defend his thesis at EHU.

The passenger plane was forced to land at Minsk airport on Sunday after pilots were alerted to a suspected bomb, a hoax denounced by Western powers as “state hacking”. Belarusian authorities sent a fighter jet to escort the plane to Belarus.

“Conditions Invented”

“As a result of a cover operation by the Belarusian authorities, the student was detained by the administration of the Minsk city investigation committee under unfounded and invented conditions,” a statement from the EHU. “We are protesting the wrongful detention of the EHU community member.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Sapega was detained “on suspicion of having committed, between August and September 2020, offenses under several articles of the Belarusian Criminal Code”.

Protasevich, 26, faces charges related to his reporting on the disputed elections last August and the ensuing crackdown on mass opposition protests. He said he feared the death penalty after being placed on a terrorist list.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who operates from neighboring Lithuania, said on Twitter that Protasevich and Sapega appeared to be under psychological pressure.

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 a friend of Roman. And they forced her to confess to ‘crimes’ she didn’t commit,” he wrote.

No clear connection has been proven between Sapega and Belarus beyond the fact that she is Protasevich’s girlfriend.

Belarusian authorities will keep Sapega in a pre-trial detention center for two months, state news agency TASS reported, citing his father, Sergey Dudich.

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

Speaking from the Belarusian town of Lida, Dudich said she feared for her daughter’s health and safety in detention.

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

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

“My hopes now are probably based on a miracle and my daughter definitely not being guilty of anything,” Dudich said. “She just showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

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

The day before the flight, Sapega called his mother to tell her about his vacation in Greece. Then she sent a final text message after the plane was forced to land in Belarus.

“In Minsk, she just wrote me ‘Mom’. And that was it.”