Journalist grabbed in Belarus flight diversion goes on trial

February 16, 2023 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) — A Belarusian court on Thursday opened the trial of a dissident journalist whose arrest nearly two years ago after a forced diversion of his flight to Minsk caused international outrage.

Raman Pratasevich, who ran popular messaging app channel Nexta, and his girlfriend were detained in May 2021 when their Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in the Belarusian capital due to a reported bomb threat.

The U.S. and the European Union denounced the flight’s diversion as a hijacking and responded by introducing painful sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

Pratasevich’s messaging app channel was widely used by participants in mass protests in Belarus against the authoritarian Lukashenko’s reelection in August 2020, which the opposition and the West denounced as rigged. Belarusian authorities responded to the demonstrations with a brutal crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested, thousands beaten by police and dozens of media outlets and nongovernmental organizations shut.


On Thursday, the Minsk Regional Court opened the trial of Pratasevich, who was put under house arrest after spending a month in jail following his flight’s diversion. Pratasevich has appeared willing to cooperate with the authorities, criticizing the opposition in state television interviews under what was widely seen as official pressure.

His Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who was arrested along with him, was sentenced last year to six years in prison on charges of inciting social hatred.

Pratasevich faces charges alongside two former Nexta colleagues, who are abroad and will be tried in absentia. They are accused of organizing mass unrest and engaging in plots to overthrow the government, among other charges.