MOSCOW – Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who were arrested during an emergency landing on a Ryanair flight, have been placed under house arrest, the Belarusian authorities confirmed on Friday.
According to the committee of inquiry, both had made “consistent confessions” and agreed to work with the investigators.
The move was first announced on Friday by the blogger’s mother and Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Natalia Protasevich, who lives in exile in Poland, told the dpa that her daughter, who lives in Minsk, drove to an address she had been given on Thursday evening, where she met her brother and gave him food and clothes.
However, the mother said that neither the family nor the lawyers had received any official information about Roman’s status from the Belarusian authorities. Instead, the family uses private channels to get information.
She pointed out that the prosecution’s charges against her son remained. The authoritarian leadership in Minsk accuses the 26-year-old blogger, among other things, of organizing mass unrest against the long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenko and thus “grossly violating public order”.
The Russian embassy in Minsk confirmed the house arrest of the Russian citizen Sapega.
Sapega’s lawyer told the independent online broadcaster Dozhd that she was able to meet her parents in a restaurant in Minsk, but that there are certain restrictions because of the house arrest. His client was prohibited from using online communication and he was being monitored, said the lawyer for the Interfax news agency.
He attributed the development to a meeting between Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov, the Belarusian authorities alone were responsible for the decision to place the couple under house arrest, while Russian diplomats continued to represent Sapega’s interests.
The Belarusian opposition leader Tikhanovskaya called the development “good news” but added: “House arrest – that is not freedom.”
Protasevich and Sapega were still charged and were “hostages” of the system under Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, she said.
“We are in contact with Roman’s parents – they do not receive any information about their son and they have no opportunity to speak to him themselves. They are convinced that the regime is playing a game and is taking advantage of Roman and Sofia’s lives.”
More than 500 other prisoners are currently being held in Belarusian prisons, said Tichanovskaya.
On May 23, Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair passenger plane on its way from Athens to Vilnius to stop over in Minsk and arrested the government critics on board Protasevich and Sapega.
Strong man Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for around 27 years and is often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator”, was criticized after the operation, in which a fighter jet was involved, for a dangerous intrusion into the airspace.
Since then, the EU has imposed economic sanctions on the former Soviet Union that target state-owned companies in particular and restrict access to the EU capital market.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry threatened retaliatory measures again on Friday, but without announcing any concrete measures.
“In the coming weeks, the retaliatory measures we have repeatedly announced will be gradually introduced,” said a statement. “It is high time European politicians made it clear that pressure and sanctions are not the right language to speak to Belarus.”
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Copyright 2021 Tribune Content Agency.