Russian student hauled off Ryanair Minsk flight says she is 'holding up' in first statement since arrest

·2 min read
Belarus diverted a European plane to arrest an exiled dissident and his girlfriend  - TELEGRAM CHANNEL NEVOLF/AFP via Getty Images
Belarus diverted a European plane to arrest an exiled dissident and his girlfriend - TELEGRAM CHANNEL NEVOLF/AFP via Getty Images

A Russian student who was taken off a 'hijacked' Ryanair she is "holding up" after being detained with her boyfriend, a dissident journalist, and thrown in jail.

Letters shared by her family with the BBC show her first remarks since being arrested last month.

The Belarusian government scrambled a fighter jet in order to force Ryanair’s Athens-Vilnius flight to land in Minsk, citing an alleged bomb threat.

Roman Protasevich, a prominent journalist wanted in Belarus for editing Nexta, the mouthpiece of the opposition movement, was taken into custody alongside Ms Sapega, a 23-year-old student who was never believed to be involved in political activism.

Belarusian state TV last week showed an hour-long interview with Mr Protasevich in which he “confessed” to having organised violent riots in Minsk and bad-mouthed Belarusian opposition leaders. The interview was overwhelmingly regarded as filmed under duress.

Officials have also paraded Ms Sapega in a short video in which she “confesses” to having moderated a channel on a messaging app that published personal information about Belarusian law enforcement.

“Please don’t blame Roman for the way things have turned out,” Ms Sapega wrote to her mother from the KGB prison in a letter that she received late on Tuesday and released to the Russian TV channel Dozhd.

“He defended me and took care of me the way that he could. You may call it love. Things will be hard for him but I hope he will manage."

The woman’s parents have called on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to intervene and help to release Ms Sapega, who is a Russian national, from the Belarusian prison.

But the Kremlin has shown little enthusiasm in trying to secure her release despite close ties with Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian dictator.

Ms Sapega did not reveal any details about a possible investigation or charges against her but reassured her parents that she was “holding up.”

“I eat well, seriously!” she wrote to her mother. “The sweets you’ve been sending me disappear really fast.”

“I should have defended my dissertation today, and gone to a restaurant with Roman in the evening to drink champagne,” she added.

“Instead of this, I had porridge for breakfast, did some exercise, and had biscuits with tea for dinner.”

Ms Sapega’s parents said the Russian consul has seen her just once since she was detained on May 23.

Unlike Mr Protasevich, who was wanted in Belarus on several charges largely dismissed as politically motivated, Ms Sapega was never politically active, and it is still unclear why she is being held.

Her lawyer has been forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and is unable to reveal if Ms Sapega is facing any charges and if so, what they might be.

Officials have refused to comment on her legal status in custody.