Minsk Court Rejects Appeal Of Woman Arrested On Diverted Flight

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK -- A court in Minsk has rejected an appeal by a Russian citizen who was arrested with her boyfriend, Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich, after their international flight was diverted by a Belarusian warplane last month and forced to land in Minsk.

The Partyzanski district court on June 14 ruled that Sofia Sapega's arrest was legal under Belarusian law and that she must remain in pretrial detention.

Sapega's lawyer, Alyaksandr Filanovich, said on June 13 that criminal charges had been filed against her. But he did not elaborate, saying that he was under a court order not to release details of the cases to the public.

The Vyasna human rights center in Minsk says Sapega was charged with organizing and preparing activities that violate civil order, organizing "mass disturbances," and inciting hatred.

Sapega and Pratasevich were arrested on May 23 after Belarusian authorities claimed a dubious bomb threat made it necessary to divert a Ryanair flight between Athens and Vilnius to Minsk's international airport.

The international backlash against what many countries regard as a "state hijacking" has been fierce. Fresh Western sanctions have been imposed that target Belarusian officials. Bans and other measures target air travel to and from Belarus or, in some cases, from even flying over Belarus.

Western governments had already imposed multiple rounds of sanctions against the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka since he launched a violent crackdown against peaceful protests last August over official election results that gave him a sixth term in office.

Videos and other evidence of brutal physical abuse of detainees has multiplied as authorities have arrested thousands.

Belarusian authorities have released separate videos showing apparent forced confessions by Sapega and Pratasevich in connection the work of opposition Telegram channels that have covered the anti-Lukashenka protests.