Sofia Sapega, 23, a law student, and Roman Protasevich, 26. Photo: AFP
An arrested Belarusian activist and imprisoned after an elaborate phony bomb threat on a Ryanair flight has been released two years after he was detained and his ex-girlfriend remains behind bars.
< p> In May 2021, Alexander Lukashenko raised a fighter to accompany the plane. with Roman Protasevich, who was forced to land in Minsk instead of Vilnius due to a false threat.
The opposition activist was sentenced to eight years in prison, but was released early thanks to a presidential pardon. However, the man's then girlfriend, Sofya Sapieha, whose only fault was that she was on the same plane, is still languishing behind bars due to allegations he may have testified against her.
To secure a rare pardon from Mr. Lukashenko, the blogger admitted to orchestrating “riots” in Minsk, citing nationwide protests that nearly led to Mr. Lukashenko's ouster in 2020. The 25-year-old student also “confessed” to editing a social media channel that published personal information about Belarusian police officers in retaliation for their brutality against protesters.
After his release on Monday, Protasevich denounced the opposition movement, which he once headed.
In his first interview after his release, Protasevich apologized to the security forces and asked for their forgiveness.
“I am very happy,” said smiling, kept under house arrest, but a pale blogger who was kept under house arrest. “I am extremely grateful to our country and personally to our president.”
Several oppositionists suggested that Protasevich testified against other political prisoners and even his ex-girlfriend.
Two Russian Telegram channels close to the security services reported earlier this week that Protasevich testified against Sapieha, even though he was told he was under no obligation to do so. Apparently, he “insisted that his ex-girlfriend, a law student, was an important person in the opposition crowd”, which served as the basis for her indictment.
Protasevich married an unknown woman last year , insisting that she was a childhood friend and “not a KGB major”. The Russian edition of Mash quoted Sapieha's unnamed aunt as calling Protasevich a “scumbag”, saying that “our girl is responsible for what he did to the music.”
Sapega was sentenced to six years in prison last year, despite that she pleaded guilty and cooperated with the investigation.
When The Telegraph contacted Sapieha's desperate relatives, they said they no longer felt safe talking about the fate of the young woman. plight in public.
One close relative said the family was moderately hopeful that Sapieha, who holds dual citizenship of Belarus and Russia, would be extradited to Russia where she might be more likely to apply for early release or pardon from the Russian president, but insists that “everything depends on one.” of a man,” referring to Mr. Lukashenko.
The support for the 25-year-old, who, unlike Mr. Protasevich, has been in prison since the forced landing, came in an unusual way from Russian ultranationalist Igor Girkin and the prominent mouthpiece of the Kremlin, Margarita Simonyan.
The influential head of RT denounced Mr. Protasevich for “turning everyone in, including his fiancée, and humiliating himself as he was ordered,” and Mr. Girkin called the blogger “a model jerk.” Most of his former allies turned their backs on Protasevich. But others argue that he had no choice.
Catherine Ierusalimskaya, Protasevich's close friend who lives in exile in Lithuania, does not blame him for his public “repentance.”
“He was trying to survive and save himself,” Ms Ierusalimskaya, who kept in touch with him during his two years of house arrest, told The Telegraph.
“The regime is using him to its fullest: it served the regime to expose someone like Roman as a sign of a failed protest movement.”
Tens of thousands of Belarusians have since been tortured and humiliated in the 2020 Belarusian pre-trial detention centers, and several prominent opposition figures such as Maria Kolesnikova are still languishing in prison along with more than 1,500 political prisoners.
Ms Ierusalimskaya also denied accusations that Sapieha was convicted because of her ex-boyfriend's testimony. Irusalimskaya, who had previously met with the blogger, said she was worried about Protasevich.
“I know that he is depressed and he is very depressed because he became an outcast. People blame him instead of offering their support and sympathy.”
Maria Kolesova-Gudzillina, one of the most respected Belarusian human rights lawyers, said earlier this week that Protasevich gave “hundreds of pages” of evidence against her. , her clients and other lawyers.
The lawyer, like many of her colleagues defending imprisoned dissidents, was stripped of her legal status last year and forced to flee the country.