Belarus releases jailed journalist taken off Ryanair flight to house arrest

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Jailed journalist Roman Protasevich was taken to a press conference in Minsk last week to say he was well treated and that he repents his crimes - Ramil Nasibulin/Belta

Jailed journalist Roman Protasevich was taken to a press conference in Minsk last week to say he was well treated and that he repents his crimes – Ramil Nasibulin/Belta

A dissident Belarusian journalist who was grabbed off a Ryanair flight forced to land in Minsk has been released under house arrest.

The forced landing of the Athens-Vilinius flight has triggered harsh Western sanctions against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko who was re-elected president last year amid unprecedented anti-government protests.

Roman Protasevich, former editor-in-chief of the opposition mouthpiece Nexta, was arrested alongside his girlfriend last month after Belarusian authorities forced the plane to land, citing a bomb threat.

Mr Protasevich, who was living in exile in Lithuania, was wanted on charges of organising riots in Belarus.

Mr Protasevich has since appeared in a video and an interview with state television, “confessing” to having orchestrated riots in Minsk. His parents and rights activists believe that he had been tortured and forced to make those media appearances.

Mr Protasevich and Sofya Sapega, his partner, have now been placed under house arrest.

Sergei Dudich, Ms Sapega’s stepfather, told the Telegraph the 23-year-old was taken to a rental flat on Thursday and that he saw her there for the first time since she was arrested.

The family of the law student, who is a Russian national, has appealed to President Vladimir Putin to secure her release.

The Russian leader raised the issue during talks with Mr Lukashenko last month but seemingly to no avail.

Mr Dudich told the Telegraph that Ms Sapega is in good health and that she needs time to “recover emotionally from her ordeal.”

Asked about his first impression of seeing his stepdaughter, Mr Dudich said: “She’s become an adult. You can see it now. She was just a child before all of this.”

Mr Dudich refused to comment on the conditions of her release and would not confirm reports that Ms Sapega and Mr Protasevich are being monitored by intelligence agents.

Franak Viacorka, adviser to the exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Mr Protasevich’s long-time friend, tweeted on Friday that the parents have no direct contact with Mr Protasevich and KGB agents are staying at the same place.

He described the couple’s release from the infamous prison in Minsk as a result of EU sanctions that earlier this week blacklisted dozens of officials and restricted imports of key Belarusian products to the EU such as petroleum.

“We should insist that all political prisoners (500 to 800 people) be released unconditionally and fully rehabilitated,” Mr Viacorka said.

The Lukashenko regime unleashed a staggering wave of repressions last year, putting hundreds in jail and bringing criminal charges against at least 2,300 people for peaceful protests.

Read more: How Alexander Lukashenko rose to become Europe’s last dictator