Belarusian law students enrolled at the European University for the Humanities file reports with JURIST on the current circumstances in Belarus under the constitutionally contested presidency of Alexander Lukashenka. For confidentiality and security reasons, we retain the name of the correspondent submitting this report. The text has only been slightly modified to respect the author’s voice.
Last Friday, May 6, a Belarusian court sentenced a Russian woman, Sofya Sapega, to six years in prison on several counts. It would seem that a large number of Russians sit in Belarusian prisons, but this is a special case, so let’s look at its features.
Sofya Sapega is the girlfriend of Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist who was one of the organizers of the Belarusian protests in 2020. After that he worked with [Belarusian democracy movement leader] Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s headquarters in Vilnius. Sofya is a citizen of the Russian Federation. Sofya is also a student in the International Law and European Union Law program at the European University for the Humanities, as is the author of this dispatch.
Sofya and Roman were returning from Athens to Vilnius on May 23, 2021 when their Ryanair plane was forced to land at Minsk National Airport. After that, both were arrested. Ryanair pilots said they were ordered to land the plane at the Belarusian airport from dispatchers in Minsk. It is important to note that an international commission has recognized this fact. Simply put, Belarusian authorities, violating all principles of international law, hijacked a plane in order to rob two people.
A few days later, the whole world saw Roman’s confession with bruises on his face. There was also a video in which Sofya said that she was the administrator of the Telegram channel “Black Book of Belarus”.
“Black Book of Belarus” is a Telegram channel that publishes the names, surnames, addresses and functions of people who were involved in violence against citizens of Belarus in 2020: police officers, prosecutors, judges and other officials.
As proof of Sofya’s guilt, law enforcement posted her “thesis”, titled “The Black Book of Belarus as a Creative Project of a New Belarus”. But even this, Belarusian officials could not do it right and they made several mistakes:
1. The book indicated the Faculty of International Law. There is no such faculty at EHU. The program is entitled “International Law and European Union Law”.
2. The job pointed to a teacher who had never worked at EHU.
We can already conclude that such a document never existed. Later, representatives of the University announced the real subject of Sofya’s thesis, which had nothing to do with the “Black Book of Belarus”.
In June, Roman and Sofya were placed under house arrest. After that, nothing was known about Sofya until May 6 this year. But Roman was used as an actor in an attempt to discredit the opposition. It was very painful to see her tears and emotions during these “talks”.
We return to the courtroom. Sofya was sentenced to six years in prison on two counts: inciting social discord and unlawfully collecting and disseminating information about private life. But six years is not all. Sopya can apply for clemency (she has already done so, but it was refused). Pardon in the Republic of Belarus is one of the powers of the president. After the court’s decision, Sofya must pay $70,000 to seek clemency a second time. This is “compensation” for the victims. In total, 238 people would be victims in this case.
These are incredible numbers, especially for Belarus. But there is another way – an application for a transfer to Russia. Sofya, as a citizen of the Russian Federation, can apply to be sent there. After that, the verdict must be reviewed. She can also ask for Putin’s forgiveness. But, as you have already read in this article, there are a lot of Russians in Belarusian prisons, and Russia does not care about its citizens at all.
However, this is the best option for Sofia. Hopefully everything will end well for her and she will be free as soon as possible.