Belarus moves Roman Protasevich, Sofia Sapega to house arrest

Critics warn move does not mean freedom for detained activist and his Russian partner.

Protasevich was arrested in May along with his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega after Belarusian authorities diverted their Ryanair flight to Minsk [File: AFP]

Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who was dramatically detained in Minsk last month after his plane was forced to land in Minsk, has been moved to house arrest, according to Belarusian opposition figures.

Protasevich, 26, was arrested on May 23 along with his Russian partner Sofia Sapega, 23, after Belarusian authorities scrambled a fighter jet to intercept their Ryanair jet in response to an alleged bomb threat.

They were accused of helping to coordinate anti-government protests last year, which grew after longtime President Alexander Lukashenko claimed a sixth term in a disputed August election.

On Friday, an adviser to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said that he had spoken with Protasevich’s parents, who told him their son had been moved to house arrest.

“But it’s not freedom. It is a prison of different type. KGB people live in the same room with him,” tweeted Franak Viacorka, referring to Belarus’s national intelligence agency.

Earlier, the BBC’s Russian service cited Protasevich’s father Dmitry as saying that his son had been moved to house arrest in a rented flat in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

He said the authorities had provided no further information.

Sapega’s lawyer Alexander Filanovich said on his Telegram channel that she had also been moved to house arrest, adding that he expected her case to be “resolved positively in the near future”.

Sapega’s stepfather told the BBC her flat was separate to Protasevich’s.

‘House arrest does not mean freedom’

Tsikhanouskaya, who is living in exile in European Union member state Lithuania, welcomed the development as “good news” but said on her Telegram channel that the pair were “still being held hostage”.

“House arrest does not mean freedom,” she said.

After their arrests, both Protasevich and Sapega appeared in “confession” videos that their supporters said were recorded under duress.

Protasevich faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

Protasevich’s father told the BBC his son and Sapega were “still under the full control of the authorities” and the charges against them had not been dropped.

Most of Lukashenko’s opponents are now either in jail or have fled the country.

In response to Protasevich and Sapega’s arrests, which led to international outrage, Brussels banned Belarusian state carrier Belavia from operating flights to airports in the 27-nation bloc and discouraged EU-based airlines from flying over Belarus.

The EU and the United States have imposed waves of sanctions on Lukashenko and his allies over the crackdown on the protests that saw thousands arrested and reports of police brutality.

The US, EU, United Kingdom and Canada joined forces on Monday to impose sweeping sanctions on several top Belarusian officials.

The EU on Thursday also imposed a series of bruising economic sanctions that target key Belarus exports, including potash – a common fertiliser ingredient – and petroleum products.

In a statement on Friday, the Belarusian foreign ministry said the goal of the penalties was “to disintegrate and undermine a sovereign and independent state”.

Source: News Agencies