The Russian girlfriend of a Belarusian dissident arrested with him when his plane was diverted to Minsk is being held on suspicion of crimes at the time of last year’s protests, Moscow said on Tuesday.
Sofiya Sapega, a 23-year-old law student at the European Humanities University (EHU) in Lithuania, was detained along with 26-year-old opposition journalist Roman Protasevich when her flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to Minsk on Sunday. .
The diversion, triggered by an alleged bomb scare, sparked a worldwide outcry and Western leaders have been calling for both to be released.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement Tuesday that Sapega was detained on suspicion of «committing crimes» between August and September 2020.
That period corresponds to the outbreak of massive anti-government protests that rocked former Soviet Belarus after a disputed presidential election in August last year.
The charges against Sapega were not specified, but Zakharova said they are covered by various articles of the Belarusian penal code.
After three days, it will be decided whether to release her or put her in pretrial detention, the statement added.
Zakharova said a Russian consul met with Sapega’s parents, who live in western Belarus, on Monday.
Russia hopes to obtain permission for a consular meeting with Sapega soon, he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said early Tuesday that he «hopes that in the near future» Sapega will be released.
Protasevich fled to Europe in 2019 from where he co-directed the Nexta Telegram channels, a key Belarusian opposition media outlet that helped mobilize protesters.
In Belarus, he faces charges of organizing mass riots, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.