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Press FreedomBelarus

Belarusian journalist taken from plane sentenced to 8 years

May 3, 2023

The arrest of opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich shocked the world when Belarus forced his Ryanair flight to Lithuania to land in Minsk.

Raman Pratasevich at a press conference in Minsk in 2021
Raman Pratasevich's arrest was widely condemned after Belarusian authorities forced his plane to land while crossing the countryImage: Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/AP

Raman Pratasevich, the opposition journalist who was arrested after his Ryanair flight was forced to land in Belarus almost two years ago, was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday.

The 27-year-old was arrested in May 2021 after the plane he was on — flying from Greece to Lithuania — was told to land in Minsk as it flew over Belarus, Pratasevich's home country. The incident sparked international outrage.

He was charged with over 1,500 crimes including organizing unrest and plotting to seize power. The blogger had maintained a Telegram channel, Nexta, that was used to organize the large-scale protests that broke out after the August 2020 elections that were widely condemned as fraudulent.

"The Minsk regional court has sentenced Roman Pratasevich to eight years in a prison colony," Belarusian state news agency Belta said.

Pratasevich's outrage-sparking arrest

Belarus grounded the Ryanair flight by declaring a false bomb alert. When the plane landed, authorities took Pratasevich, his girlfriend and two others. The plane then left without them.

Pratasevich had been placed on the Belarusian secret service's terror list in November 2020.

Two others involved in the Nexta Telegram channel, Stepan Putilo and Yan Rudnik, were also sentenced to 20 and 19 years in prison respectively.

Following Pratasevich's arrest in 2021, he was shown several times on Belarusian state television where he gave apologetic statements. He said he was "fully guilty" at the beginning of his trial in February, according to a video published by Belta.

Pratasevich's confessions are believed to have been coerced.

Mile-high kidnapping in Belarus

Belarus-EU tensions

The arrest marked one of the high points of Belarus's crackdown on dissent following the disputed election which gave President Alexander Lukashenko — who has been in power since 1994 — another term in office.

It also further stoked tensions with the EU, three members of which — Poland, Latvia and Lithuania — share a border with Belarus.

The situation deteriorated amid a series of sanctions and a so-called "hybrid war" in which Belarusian authorities flew in migrants and sent them to cross the border into the EU.

Minsk's closeness to Moscow, upon which Lukashenko's power is entirely reliant, has further isolated the former Soviet republic, especially since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, using Belarus as a launching pad.

Ukraine boosts security along Belarus border

ab/sms (AP, Reuters)