After a month in pre-trial detention, Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Russian student Sofia Sapega, have been placed under house arrest in Minsk. The two were detained in the capital on May 23, after their Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus.
Update. According to the Belarusian Investigative Committee, Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega were transferred to house arrest after making a plea deal with investigators. The Investigative Committee wrote on Telegram that Protasevich and Sapega are giving “consistent confession statements” and have pledged (among other things) to “expose accomplices and do everything possible to make amends for the harm done by their crimes.”
On June 25, Sapega’s parents told the BBC Russian Service that their daughter had been moved from a pre-trial detention center to a rented apartment in Minsk. Sapega’s lawyers and the Russian embassy also confirmed that Sapage had been transferred to house arrest.
In turn, Roman Protasevich’s father Dmitry told the Russian BBC that the journalist had also been moved from jail to house arrest. According to the Russian BBC, the two detainees are being held in separate apartments.
The transfers came as a surprise to the detainees’ families. “We are in shock,” said Sapega’s stepfather, Sergey Dudich.
“It’s difficult for me to comment on the actions of the authorities and what their aims are,” Dmitry Protasevich told the Russian BBC. “Maybe he’s been pulled into some kind of political game.” As far as Protasevich senior knows, the Belarusian authorities haven’t dropped the charges against the detainees. “If the measures of restraint have been changed, it’s an improvement in their living conditions. The rest, what will happen next, is unknown,” he added.
In conversation with Dozhd, Sapega’s lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, linked his client’s transfer from pre-trial detention to house arrest to the recent meeting between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Thanks to this, Sofia’s fate will be definite and positive. I think she will end up at home,” he told the television channel.
The Belarusian authorities have charged opposition journalist Roman Protasevich with three felonies: inciting social enmity and discord, organizing mass riots, and organizing actions that grossly violate public order. Russian citizen Sofia Sapega is facing two felony charges in Belarus: inciting social enmity and discord, and involvement in mass riots.
On June 3, Belarusian state television aired a lengthy interview with Roman Protasevich, where he criticized the Belarusian opposition and expressed admiration for Lukashenko. His family maintains that the interview was conducted under duress.
Later, on June 14, Protasevich appeared at a Belarusian Foreign Ministry press briefing, where he told journalists that he is voluntarily cooperating with investigators. Protasevich’s mother insists that the journalist made these statements under threat; his parents also maintain that he has been tortured in custody.
On June 23, Belarusian opposition blogger Anton Motolko published photos on his Telegram channel, which allegedly showed Protasevich and Sapega being interviewed by journalists in a Minsk park.
On June 24, the European Union imposed sectoral sanctions against Belarus in response to the forced landing of the Ryanair plane and the detentions of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega.
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