1 of 3 | A Belarusian court has sentenced journalist and dissident Roman Protasevich to eight years in prison for political opposition to the authoritarian Lukashenko regime. Protasevich was seized from a commercial flight forced to land in Belarus in 2021. File Photo by EPA-EFE
May 3 (UPI) -- Belarusian opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday for opposing President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.
A Minsk regional court found Protasevich, who was seized from a flight that was diverted to Minsk in May 2021, of organizing mass riots, calling for sanctions against Belarus, creating or leading an extremist group and conspiring to seize power.
Belarusian state media said he will be sent to a penal colony.
Protasevich edited the opposition media channel Nexta on Telegram. It was used to mobilize protests nationwide in Belarus in 2020.
After Protasevich's arrest, his family said he was forced to falsely confess and to apologize on Belarusian state television while praising Lukashenko.
Last year his girlfriend Sofia Sapega was sentenced to six years in prison. She was on the commercial flight with Protasevich that was seized by Belarusian authorities when it was forced by a fighter jet to land in Minsk.
The commercial Ryanair flight was forced down by Belarusian fighter jets May 23, 2021, on orders from Lukashenko as it passed over the country's airspace on a flight from Athens to Vilnius.
The U.N. Human Rights Commission said three days later that the airliner was "hijacked" by Lukashenko's regime to "abduct" a journalist onboard and was an abuse of power.
U.S. prosecutors charged four Belarusian government officials with air piracy for their roles in forcing the commercial flight to land so that Protasevich could be seized
In March the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned two Belarusian entities, seven elections officials and Lukashenko's aircraft for the authoritarian president's crackdown on the pro-democracy protests.
Treasury said the Belarus Central Elections Commission bars opposition candidates, denies access to poll observers and certifies inaccurate vote tallies, helping Lukashenko to suppress democracy.
The EU also sanctioned Belarus and banned Belarus from using EU airspace.