Belarus reportedly deems Russian student Sofia Sapega a suspect in third criminal case

Russian national Sofia Sapega, who is in custody in Belarus, has been deemed a suspect in a third criminal investigation, reports the BBC Russian Service, citing a source familiar with the case materials. 

Sapega was arrested in Minsk on May 23, alongside Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich, after being removed from a Ryanair flight that was forced to land in Belarus. On May 25, the Belarusian authorities remanded Sapega in custody for period of two months.

The third case was reportedly launched under the Belarusian Criminal Code article for “inciting hatred” (article 130, section 3), which provides for up to 12 years in prison. According to the BBC Russian Service’s source, Sapega is considered a suspect in the case as the alleged administrator of the opposition Telegram channel “Black Book of Belarus,” which was responsible for leaking the personal details of Belarusian security officers.

As previously reported by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Sapega also stands accused of organizing mass riots (under Belarusian Criminal Code article 293, section 1) and organizing group actions that grossly violate public order (article 342, part 1). 

The BBC Russian Service source speculated that the charges against Sapega will be used to paint a bigger picture claiming that her actions were “ordered” from abroad. “If her involvement in the administration of the opposition Telegram channel is proven, then the investigation will bring to light who ordered all of these interrelated actions under the three articles. These actions are puzzle [pieces], from which a picture [about how] they were ordered from the outside can be formed,” the source said.

The Belarusian authorities remanded Sofia Sapega in custody on unspecified charges. The Russian Foreign Ministry has only stated that Sapega is suspected “of committing crimes under several articles of the Criminal Code of Belarus during the period from August to September 2020” — the most active phase of the opposition protests in Belarus.

On May 25, a pro-government Telegram channel published a 30-second “confession video,” in which Sapega claims to be the editor of the opposition Telegram channel “Black Book of Belarus.” Sapega’s parents insist that she has no involvement in politics and didn’t take part in the opposition demonstrations in Belarus.

According to the BBC Russian Service’s source, Sapega initially refused to give a confession after her arrest, but the investigator “skillfully got her talking [using] psychological methods.” The source speculated that the investigator may have promised to deport her to Russia if she agreed to cooperate. 

Sofia Sapega is a student at Lithuania’s European Humanities University. She is a Russian citizen, but has lived in Belarus since she was a child and holds a Belarusian residency permit. On May 26, the Kremlin’s spokesman said that Moscow may “de jure raise the issue” of Minsk handing over Sapega to the Russian authorities. 

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