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Belarus’ leader pardons woman arrested with her dissident journalist boyfriend in plane incident

The president of Belarus has pardoned the girlfriend of a dissident journalist arrested in 2021 after being pulled off a commercial flight that was diverted to the country, a Russian governor reported Wednesday.

President Alexander Lukashenko signed a decree freeing Sofia Sapega, Primorsk Gov. Oleg Kozhemyako said on Telegram. He said Sapega’s parents had asked for leniency after her conviction and sentencing last June to six years imprisonment. She had been awaiting transfer to a prison in her native Russia.

Her boyfriend, Raman Pratasevich, was convicted last month and sentenced to eight years in prison after their dramatic arrest in May 2021 elicited outrage in the West, with some leaders saying the plane’s diversion was tantamount to state-sponsored hijacking.

Belarusian flight controllers ordered the Ryanair jetliner traveling from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk, telling the crew there was a bomb threat against the flight. No explosives were found on board once the airliner was on the ground, but Pratasevich, a Belarusian citizen who lived in exile at the time, was detained.

In response to the forced diversion, several Western countries imposed a raft of new sanctions and barred their planes from flying over Belarus.

Pratasevich ran Nexta, a Telegram channel widely used by participants in mass protests against the disputed 2020 election that gave authoritarian Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Pratasevich was charged with organizing unrest and plotting to seize power.

Three days after Sapega’s sentencing for inciting social hatred and illegal collection of personal data, a message on a Telegram channel billed as belonging to Pratasevich sought to distance him from her — saying they had separated long before and that he was married to someone else.

The Associated Press couldn’t independently verify whether the post was freely written by Pratasevich or any of the claims it contained.

The Associated Press

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