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Russian national Sofia Sapega, who was jailed in Belarus after forced landing of jet, agrees extradition to Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a Kremlin meeting, March 16, 2022. (Screenshot)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who is serving a six-year prison term in Belarus on charges related to civil disturbances that followed a disputed 2020 presidential election, has agreed to be extradited to Russia.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Minsk, Aleksei Maskalyov, said on April 12 that Sapega had expressed her intention to a Russian diplomat who visited her in prison.

According to Maskalyov, Russian and Belarusian officials will work on the 24-year-old Sapega’s extradition papers.

Sapega and her then-boyfriend, dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich, were detained after their commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk in May 2021.

Sapega was accused of administering a channel on Telegram that published the personal data of Belarusian security forces. She was sentenced in May 2022.

Belarus said it had ordered the plane to land after an anonymous bomb threat. Evidence later revealed Belarusian officials conspired to fake the bomb threat as a pretense for diverting the plane so they could detain the two.

Pratasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on Telegram, which extensively covered a violent crackdown on unprecedented protests in Belarus following an August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and Western governments say was stolen by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run the country with an iron fist since 1994.

Pratasevich is currently on trial. His two co-defendants, Stsyapan Putsila and Yan Rudzik, are being tried in absentia.

The three are charged with forming and leading an extremist group, insulting Lukashenka, plotting to seize power through unconstitutional means, discrediting Belarus, financing extremist activities, inciting social hatred, organizing mass unrest, conducting acts of terrorism, and other actions aimed at undermining national security.

Pratasevich made several appearances on Belarusian state television in 2021 that prompted the opposition and Western officials to accuse Lukashenka’s regime of extracting video confessions under torture. They also called for his and Sapega’s immediate release.

Lukashenka has denied stealing the election and has since cracked down hard on the opposition, whose leading members were either jailed or forced to flee the country, fearing for their safety.