Belarusian blogger Roman Protasevich wasn't the only one to be arrested after his flight was forced to land in Belarus on Sunday. Protasevich, who was being accompanied by his girlfriend Sofia Sapega on the flight, was also arrested along with him by the Belarusian government, the university Sapega was attending said on Monday.
Sapega's detention and arrest comes as quite a surprise given that she was only accompanying Protasevich and was on her way to her university to defend her Master's thesis. Protasevich, in a dramatic series of events was arrested on Sunday after a plane flying from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, was forced by the Belarusian government to divert to Minsk.
Sapega, 23, was traveling with Protasevich and flying to Vilnius to defend her Master's thesis, according to a European Humanities University statement. Unfortunately, she too was detained and then arrested along with Protasevich on Sunday. Sapega, who is a Russian citizen, had been vacationing with Protasevich in Greece, according to a university spokesperson who confirmed the news to Reuters.
Sapega's family also confirmed her detention on Monday, the spokesperson told the outlet. A Lithuanian passenger, who gave his name only as Mantas, said that on hearing the news that the plane was being diverted, Protasevich immediately opened an overhead locker, pulled out a laptop and a phone and gave them to a female companion. She was later identified Sapega. On landing, Protasevich was immediately separated from Sapega but alter she too was arrested.
In a statement given to Reuters, the university said: "As a result of a cover operation by the Belarusian authorities, the student was detained by the Administration of the Investigative Committee for the city of Minsk on groundless and made-up conditions."
Arrested for No Reason
Needles to say, Sapega was unfortunate to be on the flight, which led to her arrest. Her university has condemned her arrest. "We protest against the unjustified detention of the member of EHU community", the statement further read.
Sapega was flying to Vilnius to defend her Master's thesis at the university to graduate from her five-year course. Sapega is a law student at the university, which was founded in Minsk in 1992 but forced by Belarusian authorities to relocate in 2004 to neighboring Lithuania.
Sapega's university said it is providing her immediate consular assistance and has urged the international community and human rights defenders to assist in her release. "Sofia's groupmates and faculty members tell that the student is well regarded due to her academic performance and reputation in EHU's community," the university statement read.
Although Sapega's fate hangs in the balance, her university particularly is making all efforts to get her released. The Russian Embassy in Minsk told The New York Times that Belarus had notified the consul of Sapega's detention but nothing more is known beyond that.
Belarusian authorities on Sunday sent a fighter jet to divert a Ryanair plane, citing a bogus bomb threat. When the passenger plane was forced to land in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, police officers boarded the jet and arrested Protasevich, who has been a vocal opponent to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's rule.
The incident has been condemned by the international community but in between all these Sapega seems to have become a victim of circumstances. The incident has now raised the prospect of further sanctions against Belarus from Europe and the United States.
Belarusian state media has reported that it was Lukashenko who gave the "unequivocal order" to ground the plane in Minsk. Later on Monday, Ryanair's CEO said that Belarusian KGB agents were on board the plane.
That said, Belarusian authorities posted a video of Protasevich on Monday, in which he can be heard saying that he was cooperating with authorities. But nothing is known about Sapega and I which prison is she currently being held.