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Russian woman arrested in Minsk after grounding of Ryanair flight could be deported home after trial, says Belarus’ chief diplomat

Russian woman arrested in Minsk after grounding of Ryanair flight could be deported home after trial, says Belarus’ chief diplomat
Sofia Sapega, the Russian woman arrested in Minsk when her flight was forced to land last week, will likely be tried in Belarus but may be pardoned or deported afterwards, according to the Belarusian minister of foreign affairs.

On May 23, a Ryanair jet carrying 126 passengers from Greece was forced to make an emergency stop in Minsk because of a supposed bomb threat. Once it landed, police came onto the aircraft and arrested Sapega, alongside her boyfriend Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian activist who has worked for US state-run media and once ran opposition Telegram channel Nexta. It has also been alleged that Protasevich fought in the neo-Nazi Azov battalion during the 2014 Ukrainian War. Taking part in the conflict, on either side, is a criminal offence in Belarus.

Later, when no bomb was found, the plane left for its final destination in Lithuania. Western governments have slammed the actions of the authorities in Minsk, with some calling the incident “piracy” or a “hijacking.”

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Sapega was born in Russia and holds Russian citizenship, but she moved to Belarus at the age of six, according to her father. There have been calls for her to be sent back to her country of birth, which forms a Union State with Belarus, per a 1999 treaty.

“I can't predict how the situation will develop further, because there are different options. It will be up to the head of state to decide to pardon her or transfer her to Russia to continue serving her sentence. We will have to wait,” Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei told Moscow daily Kommersant on Monday, also noting that Sapega has a residence permit for Belarus, where her mother lives.

According to the authorities in Minsk, Sapega is suspected of involvement in the organization of mass riots in Belarus, and is alleged to have been behind the Telegram channel ‘Black Book’, which exposed private details about members of Belarus' security services. A few days after her arrest, state-run TV broadcast a video of Sapega admitting to editing the channel.

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“All over the world, there is a rule that disclosure of personal data is strictly prohibited. It is a crime and is severely punished,” Makei said.

Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that Russia would do the “utmost to protect the rights” of its citizen.

“All consular and legal protection will certainly be provided to the Russian female national,” he said.

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