May 22 (UPI) — Imprisoned Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich said Monday that his 8-year prison sentence was pardoned, the country’s state-run media reported Monday.
Protasevich, editor of the opposition media channel Nexta on Telegram, said he “signed all the relevant documents” and was pardoned of his conviction for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko‘s authoritarian government, the state-run BELTA news agency reported.
“This, of course, is just great news,” he said.
Protasevich thanked Lukashenko for the pardon and said he planned to go to “a quiet place in the countryside for a couple of days … in order to take a breather and start to move forward.”
He was convicted last month for organizing mass riots, advocating sanctions against Belarus, leading an extremist group, and conspiring to seize power.
State media did not mention Protasevich’s girlfriend Sofia Sapega, who was sentenced last May to six years in prison.
The two were on a commercial flight in May of 2021 from Greece to Lithuania when Belarusian authorities warned the pilots of the Ryanair plane about an alleged bomb threat. That caused the plane to enter Belarusian airspace. A military jet then forced the aircraft into diverting to Minsk where Protasevich and Sapega were hauled off the plane and jailed, in what became an international incident.
At the time, the U.N. Human Rights Commission said the plane was “hijacked” by Lukashenko’s regime to “abduct” the journalist.