A Belarusian court on Friday sentenced the girlfriend of a Belarusian journalist to six years in prison, nearly a year after they were arrested on a commercial plane hijacked to Minsk by a fighter jet.
Sofia Sapega, a Russian national, was arrested on May 23, 2021, while traveling from Greece to Lithuania with Roman Protasevitch on a Ryanair plane that was forced to land in Minsk by the Belarusian authorities.
Sapega will serve his sentence in a “general correctional colony”, the Belarusian Supreme Court announced in a statement.
The court found her guilty of inciting social hatred and illegally collecting personal data, among other charges, according to the French agency AFP.
The trial took place at the regional court in Grodno, 300 kilometers west of Minsk, close to Belarus’ border with Poland and Lithuania.
Russian news agency TASS added that Sapega was taken into custody after the sentence was read and has 10 days to appeal the court’s decision.
Sapega, 24, and Protassevich, 27, were detained on May 23, 2021, after their plane traveling from Athens to Vilnius was hijacked and forced to land at Minsk airport by a Belarusian MiG-29 fighter jet.
Belarus claimed it intercepted the plane after receiving a “bomb threat”, but an investigation by a UN agency concluded it was “deliberately false”.
The diversion of the commercial plane was condemned by the European Union (EU) and by the international community in general.
After being detained, both Protasevich, who had lived outside Belarus since 2019, and Sapega appeared in videos claiming they had confessed to their alleged crimes, but their supporters said they did so under duress.
Protasevich is a former editor-in-chief of Nexta, an online channel that played a leading role in the wave of protests against the re-election of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in 2020.
Lukashenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, has ruled Belarus with an “iron fist” since 1994.
Protasevich is under house arrest in Belarus awaiting trial.