Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who was on a plane en route from Greece to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk. It was reported that there was a bomb threat, but instead appears to have been an excuse for the Belarus government to arrest her boyfriend – a dissident journalist. She, too was detained and for the past month has been house arrest. She was charged with causing unrest which carries a sentence of up to 12 years in prison. A few days later she appeared in a video providing an allegedly forced confession.
August 4, 2021
Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko
President of the Republic of Belarus
Independence Palace, Parspiekt
Minsk, Republic of Belarus
Fax: +375 17 226 06 10
Dear President Lukashenko:
The Committee of Concerned Scientists is an independent organization of scientists, physicians, engineers, and scholars devoted to the protection and advancement of human rights and scientific freedom for colleagues all over the world.
This communication is in regard to Sofia Sapega. On May 23rd, her plane en route to Vilnius from Greece was forced to land in Minsk for an alleged bomb threat, which appears to have been an excuse to arrest her boyfriend, dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. After that, she was detained and since June 23rd, placed under house arrest, for supposedly causing “unrest”, for which she faces up to 12 years in prison. A few days later, she appeared in a forced confession video, stating that she was the editor of the Telegram channel ‘The Black Book of Belarus,’ that allegedly “publishes personal data of employees of the [Ministry of] Internal Affairs”, for which there is no evidence.
Sapega, graduated on July 2nd, in absentia, from the European Humanities University, in Vilnius, Lithuania, with a degree in international and European law. She was unable to defend her master’s thesis given the continued detention.
The Committee is concerned that these charges simply stem from Sapega’s relationship with Protasevich. In fact, her family asserts that she was apolitical. The Committee is also concerned that her confession video may have been produced under duress, especially considering reports that Protasevich had marks of physical violence on his wrists. The house arrest appears to be an attempt by the government to make Sapega unavailable to independent reporters.
We write to urge you to ensure that Sapega is treated fairly, that she is provided with adequate medical treatment, and regular access to family and independent legal representation. We further urge that whatever legal proceedings are held in her case meet international standards for fair trials. If the charges are simply political in origin, she must be released immediately and unconditionally. As a Russian citizen, she should be allowed to leave the country. The unusual nature of her initial detainment has only served to damage reputation of the airline industry in Belarus. Her release would be a positive step toward remedying the situation.
Thank you for your attention to this serious matter. We will be closely following developments in this case.
Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich, Eugene M. Chudnovsky, Alexander Greer
Co-Chairs, Committee of Concerned Scientists
Antony J. Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520 USA
Phone: (202) 647-4000