Dissident Belarusian journalist moved to house arrest

25 June 2021, 09:34

Roman Protasevich
Belarus Dissident. Picture: PA

Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend were arrested after their flight was diverted to Minsk in May.

Dissident Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich and his Russian girlfriend, who were arrested after their flight was diverted to Minsk last month, have been moved from jail to house arrest.

The country’s exiled opposition leader said the move was “good news”, but not freedom yet.

Protasevich – who ran a messaging app channel that was widely used in last year’s massive protests against hard-line president Alexander Lukashenko – and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were seized on May 23 when their flight from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Minsk because of an alleged bomb threat.

The move elicited international outrage, and the European Union slapped more economic sanctions on Belarus.

Both Protasevich and Sapega have remained in detention ever since. Protasevich, who faces a potential 15 years in prison, has been shown on state television expressing regret for his activities.

The opposition has claimed he spoke under duress.

Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said the move for the couple to house arrest “good news”, but stressed it is not the end.

She said: “House arrest is not freedom, they’re still facing charges, their every step is still being watched. It means they’re still hostages.”

Alexander Lukashenko
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko (Pool/PA)

Ms Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus for Lithuania last year under pressure from the authorities.

She added that she and her team are in touch with Protasevich’s parents, who “aren’t given any information about their son, aren’t allowed to talk to him” and are “convinced that the regime is playing a game, using Roman and Sofia’s lives”.

Sapega’s lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, confirmed to the Associated Press that she has been transferred under house arrest recently, without specifying when exactly it happened.

She resides in a rented apartment in Minsk, and her parents met her on Thursday at a restaurant.

Mr Gashinsky said she was not alone at the restaurant, but would not clarify whether she was with Protasevich.

Protasevich’s lawyer Inessa Olenskaya refused to comment on her client’s whereabouts and status, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

By Press Association