Belarus: Free Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega
The exiled Belarusian journalist Raman, and his girlfriend Sofia were unlawfully arrested by Belarusian authorities, after their Athens to Vilnius flight was forced to land in Minsk because of a false bomb threat. Take action now to demand their immediate release.
On 23 May 2021, Raman Pratasevich was on a flight from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania with his partner Sofia Sapega. Raman, a vocal critic of the Belarus government, was wanted by the Belarus authorities for his work as a popular blogger and journalist who has been a prominent public figure of the widespread protests against the disputed elections, which took place in August 2020. But as their RyanAir flight travelled through Belarus airspace, Belarus air traffic controllers suddenly ordered the plane to land claiming that there were reports of a bomb on board. The plane was ‘accompanied’ by a Belarus fighter jet as it landed in Minsk airport. After living in exile because of concerns for his safety in Belarus, Raman found himself being forced to return.
The detention of Raman and Sofia has caused an international outcry. There is no evidence that they have committed an internationally recognised crime, yet they have been arbitrarily detained in retaliation for Raman’s critical journalistic work.
The Belarus authorities have a history of abuse towards people who show peaceful dissent. In August 2020 during post-election protests over 30,000 people were arbitrarily detained and there were hundreds of complaints of torture and ill treatment. Many of those detained are now being sentenced to years in prison for peacefully showing their dissent.
If convicted, Raman Pratasevich could face up to 20 years imprisonment and he is at serious risk of torture and other ill-treatment. On 24 May, Raman appeared on Belarusian state television making a self-incriminating “confession” in front of a camera, injuries clearly visible on his face. Amnesty International is concerned that this “confession” may have been extracted by force, and that Sofia Sapega is detained in order to put pressure on Raman.