Sofia Sapega, the Russian student arrested alongside Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, appeared in a video overnight while in detention, allegedly “confessing” to working for a social media channel that publishes personal data of government employees.
The video comes a day after a similar one featuring Protasevich, 26, in detention “confessing” to organizing mass riots in the Belarusian capital. Both videos show signs that the pair were likely speaking under duress.
The videos follow Belarusian authorities taking the extraordinary measure of diverting to Minsk a Ryanair flight carrying the couple on Sunday. The plane had taken off from Greece and was bound for Lithuania.
Sofia Sapega fetured in a video posted to pro-government social media channels on Tuesday while in detention.
The 23-year-old Sapega identified herself in the video, posted to pro-government social media channels, saying that she lived in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius.
“On 23.05.2021, I took the same flight as Roman Protasevich. I am also the editor of the Telegram channel ‘The Black Book of Belarus,’ which publishes personal data of employees of the [Ministry of] Internal Affairs.”
Belarusian authorities have presented no evidence that Sapega has links with the Telegram channel.
In the video featuring Protasevich on Monday, the activist said interior ministry employees were treating him in a “correct” manner and “in compliance with the law.”
“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and have confessed to organizing mass riots in the city of Minsk,” he also said. His supporters said they believed the video was made under duress.
World leaders have condemned authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko for what many have described as a “hijacking,” while the European Union imposed sanctions and US President Joe Biden described it as an “outrageous incident” and a “direct affront to international norms.” He said the US would look at options to hold those responsible to account.
The EU and Canada have banned their aircraft from using Belarusian airspace.
A Belarusian official earlier claimed that Minsk airport received an email from the Palestinian militant group Hamas saying that a bomb had been planted aboard the Ryanair flight, a claim that Hamas dismissed as “fake news.”
Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Lukashenko stuck by claims that the flight was diverted because of a bomb threat, saying the threat had originated in Switzerland.
He also asserted that the aircraft was at the time near a Belarus nuclear power plant and asked what might have happened if the plant’s security systems had been placed on full alert. However, the aircraft’s path to Vilnius — which was closer than Minsk at the time of the diversion — shows it would not have flown close to the plant.
Our actions might seem excessive to those who are trying to justify their crimes. But this strategy is vitally important for the country,” said Lukashenko, who sought to characterize the whole affair as a threat to Belarus’ sovereignty.
He said the goal of the country’s enemies was to “dissolve the Belarusian people and start strangling their sworn enemy — the Russian people.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made comments to reporters on Wednesday suggesting the Russian government believed Belarusian officials’ reasoning for landing the plane in Minsk. When asked whether the Kremlin has received an appeal from Sapega’s mother for help, Peskov said he was unaware of one.
“I only know that it was announced in the media. Of course, all consular protection, legal protection will be provided for a Russian citizen. Our foreign ministry said this,” he said.