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Belarus: Plane hijack journalist in house arrest

June 25, 2021

The country's opposition leader said that despite the "good news," Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend were still "hostages." The EU stepped up sanctions on Belarus this month.

Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich gestures while speaking at a news conference at the National Press Center of Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, June 14, 2021.
Raman Pratasevic at a recent press conference in Belarus, one of several staged by the government since his incarcerationImage: Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/AP

Belarus authorities have moved the journalist and his Russian girlfriend, arrested when their Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk last month, from prison to house arrest.

Dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega have been in custody since a Belarus fighter jet forced their flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in Belarus on May 23.

European Union leaders slapped tough sanctions on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko after the unprecedented move, also forcing planes to fly around the Eastern European state's airspace.

What has been the reaction so far?

Estranged Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said the move was "good news" for Pratasevich, who could face up to a 15-year prison term for using a messaging app to help organize unauthorized protests last year.

But Tsikhanouskaya cautioned: "House arrest is not freedom, they're still facing charges, their every step is still being watched. It means they're still hostages."

Belarus opposition leader's husband on trial

The opposition leader said she was in contact with Pratasevich's parents who had reported they were not being given any information about their son's whereabouts. She said the journalist's parents were "convinced that the regime is playing a game, using Raman and Sofia's lives."

Sapega's lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, confirmed to the Associated Press that his client had been moved to house arrest, although Pratasevich's lawyer, Inessa Olenskaya, did not comment due to a non-disclosure agreement.

jc/msh (AP, dpa, AFP)