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Belarus transfers dissident bloggers and girlfriends from prison to house arrest

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The regime of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus arrested them after they forced a Ryanair flight to land. Lord Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega are under house arrest.

The office of the leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya) confirmed on Friday that both have been transferred from prison to house arrest, but said they are still “hostage”.

Qihanusskaya’s office said in a statement: “We keep in touch with Roman’s parents-they have not been told anything about their son and they are not allowed to communicate with him.”

Tsikhanouskaya’s assistant Franak Viacorka said that Belarus is trying to ease New sanctions The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada announced this week. These restrictions apply to 86 individuals and organizations and the country’s potash and petroleum sectors, which are an important source of hard currency.

“We expect that under such sanctions pressure, the regime will try to exchange a group of prisoners to lift the sanctions. They are playing the same game as after the 2006 and 2010 elections, hiring people for benefits,” he told the Financial Times. .

“[The EU should] Don’t believe a word Lukashenko said. Everyone must be released unconditionally. ”

EU leaders this week called for the “immediate release of all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained persons in Belarus,” including Protasevic and Sapega.

A senior EU diplomat said that this week’s proposal from Minsk was rejected by the foreign minister because they thought it was not a serious proposal. “The actions of the Lukashenko regime were ignored,” the official said. “The only thing the EU will consider discussing is the immediate release of all 500 political prisoners and fair elections.”

Protasevic’s arrest is part of Belarus’s brutal suppression of dissidents since its massive protest against Lukashenko’s suspicious election victory last year. Approximately 35,000 Belarusians were arrested, some of whom claimed to have been tortured during detention.

As the former editor of Nexta, the most famous opposition channel on the messaging app Telegram, Protasevich was accused of organizing large-scale riots. If convicted, he will face up to 15 years in prison. Sapega was accused of causing riots.

Belarus marched against the dissident blogger in a series of interviews and press conferences, apparently under duress, and he praised Lukashenko. On Friday, the state media released footage allegedly showing Protasevich and Sapega walking in the center of Minsk.

Sapega’s lawyer Anton Gashinsky told the Russian news line that she was allowed to have lunch with her parents in a cafe in Minsk on Thursday, but was followed by the security department and was not allowed to use the phone or the Internet.

Gasinski added that Saperga, a Russian citizen, attributed her release to Lukashenko meets According to Interfax news agency, after the Ryanair incident, they met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and described her house arrest as a “very positive moment that will help find positive for her destiny in the near future.” s solution”.

The Kremlin said it would “continue to protect [Sapega’s] Legitimate rights and interests”.

One day after the European Union formally imposed sanctions on the crashed flight in Belarus, Ryanair described it as a “state-supported hijacking.”

A Western diplomat said that putting Protasevich and Sapega under house arrest appeared to be part of an attempt to start negotiations with the West.

“This shows that there is a possible opening. If Russia tells Belarus that it must bear the consequences, it may have something to do with Russia, not the West. [of the western sanctions] In itself,” the diplomat said. “But it is quite stupid to do so late, because once sanctions are imposed, it is very difficult to modify them-if that is the goal. “

Lukashenko, who ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 27 years, claimed that he deployed a fighter jet to escort the Athens-Vilnius Ryanair flight in response to false bomb warnings. He also claimed that the West is launching a “hybrid war” against Belarus.

Additional report by Michael Peel in Brussels

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