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Belarusian court sentences girlfriend of dissident to 6 years in prison

Belarusian court sentences girlfriend of dissident to 6 years in prison
Image of Russian citizen Sofia Sapega before a court hearing in Grodno, Belarus on Friday. Sapega was sentenced to six years in prison by the court. Photo by Leonid Scheglov/BelTA/EPA-EFE

May 6 (UPI) -- The Russian girlfriend of a Belarus dissident who was arrested when the authorities in that country forced down a commercial airliner last year was sentenced to six years in prison.

The Russian state-run news agency TASS said Belarus's Grodnensky District Court handed down the sentence to Sofia Sapega on charges of "deliberate acts aimed at inciting social enmity and discord on the basis of social affiliation committed by a group of persons, which had grave consequences."

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Sapega and her boyfriend, Belarusian opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich, were arrested May 23, 2021, after the Belarusian military forced the diversion to Minsk of the Ryanair plane they were on, flying from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania. The act was met with outrage by the United States and Western countries that led to sanctions against Belarus.

The Belarusian court also found Sapega guilty of illegally collecting and distributing personal data. The court said that she had 10 days to appeal.

Protasevich faces charges that include organizing mass unrest, for which he could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Protasevich, who had been under house arrest with Sapega, was one of the top administrators for the social media channel Nexta-Live that had been covering mass protests in Belarus since the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020. Lukashenko's opponents charged that the elections were rigged.

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