Belarusian law students enrolled at European Humanities University are filing reports with JURIST on current circumstances in Belarus under the constitutionally-disputed presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding the name of the correspondent filing this report. The text has only been lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.
Last Friday, May 6, a Belarusian court sentenced a Russian woman, Sofya Sapega, to six years in prison on several criminal counts. It would seem that a large number of Russians are sitting in Belarusian prisons, but this is a special case, so let’s look into its features.
Sofya Sapega is the girlfriend of Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist who was one of the organizers of the Belarusian protests in 2020. After that he worked together with [Belarusian democracy movement leader] Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s headquarters in Vilnius. Sofya is a citizen of the Russian Federation. Sofya is also a student of the European Humanities University International Law and European Union Law program, as is the author of this dispatch.
Sofya and Roman were returning from Athens to Vilnius on May 23, 2021 when their Ryanair plane was forced to land at the Minsk National Airport. After that, both were arrested. The Ryanair pilots said that they received an order to land the plane at the Belarusian airport from Minsk dispatchers. It is important to note that an international commission has recognized this fact. In simple terms, the Belarusian authorities, violating all the principles of international law, hijacked a plane in order to steal two people.
A few days later, the whole world saw Roman’s confession of crimes with bruises on his face. There was also a video in which Sofya said that she was the administrator of the Telegram channel “Black Book of Belarus”.
“Black Book of Belarus” is a Telegram channel that publishes the names, surnames, addresses and positions of people who were involved in violence against citizens of Belarus in 2020: policemen, prosecutors, judges and other officials.
As proof of Sofya’s guilt, law enforcement agencies posted her “thesis” online, called “The Black Book of Belarus as a Creative Project of a New Belarus.” But even this the Belarusian officials could not do properly, and they made several mistakes:
1. The work indicated the Faculty of International Law. There is no such faculty at EHU. The program is called “International law and the law of the European Union”.
2. The work indicated a teacher who had never worked at EHU.
It can already be concluded that such a document never existed. Later, representatives of the University announced the real topic of Sofya’s thesis, which had nothing to do with the “Black Book of Belarus”.
In June, Roman and Sofya were sent to house arrest. After that nothing was known about Sofya until the sixth of May this year. But Roman was used as an actor to try to discredit the opposition. It was very painful to look at his tears and emotions during these “interviews”.
We return to the courtroom. Sofya was sentenced to six years on two criminal counts: inciting social discord and illegal collection and dissemination of information about private life. But six years is not all. Sopya can apply for clemency (she has already done this, but she was refused). Pardon in the Republic of Belarus is one of the powers of the President. After the court’s decision, Sofya has to pay 70 thousand dollars to apply for clemency a second time. This is “compensation” for victims. In total, 238 people are allegedly victims in this case.
These are incredible figures, especially for Belarus. But there is another way – a transfer request to Russia. Sofya, as a citizen of the Russian Federation, can ask to be sent there. After that, the verdict must be reviewed. She can also ask for Putin’s pardon. But, as you have already read in this article, there are a lot of Russians in Belarusian prisons and Russia absolutely does not care about its citizens.
However, this is the best option for Sofia. Let’s hope that everything will end well for her and she will be free as soon as possible.