Sofia Sapega, Russian student arrested alongside Belarus activist, appears in ‘confession’ video

The video comes a day after a similar one featuring Protasevich, 26, in detention “confessing” to organizing mass riots in the Belarusian capital. Both videos show signs that the pair were likely speaking under duress.

The videos follow Belarusian authorities taking the extraordinary measure of diverting to Minsk a Ryanair flight carrying the couple on Sunday. The plane had taken off from Greece and was bound for Lithuania.

Sapega, a 23-year-old international law student, identified herself in the video, saying that she lived in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius.

“On 23.05.2021, I took the same flight as Roman Protasevich. I am also the editor of the Telegram channel ‘The Black Book of Belarus,’ which publishes personal data of employees of the [Ministry of] Internal Affairs,” she said in the video, which was posted to pro-government social media channels.

Belarusian authorities have presented no evidence that Sapega has links with the Telegram channel.

In the video featuring Protasevich on Monday, the activist said interior ministry employees were treating him in a “correct” manner and “in compliance with the law.”

“I continue to cooperate with the investigation and have confessed to organizing mass riots in the city of Minsk,” he also said. His supporters said they believed the video was made under duress.

Sapega’s mother, Anna Dudich, told Reuters that her daughter was in her final year of international law studies at the European Humanities University in Vilnius, and that she had been in a relationship with Protasevich for less than six months.

The couple had been in Greece for a two-week holiday, the Reuters report said.

“My hopes are now probably based on a miracle and on the knowledge that my daughter is definitely not guilty of anything,” Dudich said. “She simply showed up in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Sapega had called her mother the day before the flight to tell her about her Greek holiday and sent a last text message after the plane was diverted to Belarus.

“In Minsk she just wrote me ‘Mama’. And that was it.”

World leaders have condemned authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko for what many have described as a “hijacking,” while the European Union imposed sanctions and US President Joe Biden described it as an “outrageous incident” and a “direct affront to international norms.” He said the US would look at options to hold those responsible to account.

The EU and Canada have banned their aircraft from using Belarusian airspace.

A Belarusian official earlier claimed that Minsk airport received an email from the Palestinian militant group Hamas saying that a bomb had been planted aboard the Ryanair flight, a claim that Hamas dismissed as “fake news.”

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Lukashenko stuck by claims that the flight was diverted because of a bomb threat, saying the threat had originated in Switzerland.

The Swiss Department for Foreign Affairs tweeted: “The Swiss authorities had and have no knowledge of a bomb threat on the Ryanair flight Athens-Vilnius. Also, there was no notification from #Switzerland to the Belarusian authorities.”

Lukashenko also asserted that the aircraft was at the time near a Belarus nuclear power plant and asked what might have happened if the plant’s security systems had been placed on full alert. However, the aircraft’s path to Vilnius — which was closer than Minsk at the time of the diversion — shows it would not have flown close to the plant.

Sapega was traveling on the Ryanair flight that was diverted.

“Our actions might seem excessive to those who are trying to justify their crimes. But this strategy is vitally important for the country,” said Lukashenko, who sought to characterize the whole affair as a threat to Belarus’ sovereignty.

He said the goal of the country’s enemies was to “dissolve the Belarusian people and start strangling their sworn enemy — the Russian people.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made comments to reporters on Wednesday suggesting the Russian government believed Belarusian officials’ reasoning for landing the plane in Minsk. When asked whether the Kremlin has received an appeal from Sapega’s mother for help, Peskov said he was unaware of one.

“I only know that it was announced in the media. Of course, all consular protection, legal protection will be provided for a Russian citizen. Our foreign ministry said this,” he said.

'He cut my underwear. Then he did what he did'

“The Belarusian side said that charges were brought against her in connection with, the participation in, illegal actions and so on. In addition, we saw her confessions. But in any case, she has the right to a defense, and of course, all the necessary assistance will be provided to ensure her legal protection.”

President Lukashenko has led Belarus since 1994 and took his sixth consecutive term last year after an election period marred by a brutal crackdown on mass protests against the leader. Belarusian authorities detained political opposition figures, protesters and activists.

CNN investigations have found cases where Belarusian authorities have used torture against detained protesters.

CNN’s Angela Dewan wrote from London, and Zarah Ullah contributed from Moscow.

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