Trial of Belarusian journalist grabbed in flight ‘hijacking’ begins

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A Belarusian court has opened the trial of dissident journalist Román Protasévich who is accused of organizing mass unrest and engaging in plots to overthrow the government, among other charges.

He was detained in May 2021 when Belarussian jets forced a Ryanair flight he was on from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk. 

Protasévich was arrested on landing and pleaded guilty soon afterwards in a video broadcast on state TV. His family and various experts believe this was done under duress.

Protasévich’s 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.

The US and the EU have denounced the flight’s diversion as a “hijacking” and responded by introducing painful sanctions against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

Protasévich founded and ran the popular ‘Nexta’ channel on the Telegram messaging app, which was widely used by participants in mass protests in Belarus against the re-election of President Lukashenko in 2020. 

Protasévich faces charges alongside two former Nexta colleagues who are abroad and will be tried in absentia. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.