Belarus has sentenced the prominent opposition journalist it arrested through “hijacking” his flight to eight years in prison.
27-year-old Roman Protasevich had been flying from Greece to Lithuania in May 2021 when Belarus’ president ordered a fighter jet to intercept the passenger jet and force it to land in Minsk.
Upon landing, Belarus authorities immediately detained Protasevich and his girlfriend.
Authorities then released footage of Protasevich with visible bruises, confessing to organizing anti-government protests and praising the long-standing president Alexander Lukashenko.
Protasevich was a co-founder of a popular opposition Telegram channel, which reported on the mass protests against Lukashenko’s re-election in 2020.
Protesters and Western governments say the election was rigged so that Lukashenko could secure a sixth term.
The “hijacking” was widely denounced and led to EU countries imposing sanctions on Belarus.
On Wednesday May 2, Protasevich was jailed for conspiring against the state, organizing mass disturbances, and inciting acts of terrorism and slandering Lukashenko.
His then girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, had been sentenced to six years in prison for “inciting hatred” in May 2022.
State media said Protasevich would be serving his time in a penal colony.
Belarus’ exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called the trial fake, noting that the verdict came on World Press Freedom Day.
Tsikhanouskaya added that Protasevich had been “the regime’s hostage since the Ryanair hijacking”.
Tsikhanouskaya herself was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia for treason and conspiring to seize power in March.