‘There were no KGB officers on the plane’ Detained Russian national Sofia Sapega appears in Belarusian state television interview
On the evening of August 10, Belarusian state television aired a brief interview with Russian national Sofia Sapega. The 23-year-old was detained in Minsk alongside Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich on May 23, shortly after the forced landing of a Ryanair plane. After spending weeks in a detention center run by Belarus’s intelligence agency (the KGB), Sapega and Protasevich were transferred to house arrest in late June. They are now awaiting trial on multiple felony charges. In conversation with television host Ksenia Lebedeva, Sapega recounted their circumstances surrounding the arrests. Among other things, she underscored that “there were no KGB officers on the plane.”
Detained Russian national Sofia Sapega appeared on an episode of the Belarusian state television show “Eto Drugoe” (This is Different), which aired on the evening of August 10. During a brief conversation with the show’s host, Ksenia Lebedeva, Sapega recounted the events of May 23 — the day the Belarusian authorities forced Ryanair pilots to make an emergency landing in Minsk and subsequently detained her and her boyfriend, Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.
Sapega recalled that when they found out the plane would be landing Belarus, Protasevich assumed she wouldn’t be detained. Therefore, “to ensure minimum security,” the journalist gave her his devices prior to the landing. “But it didn’t work,” Sapega said.
Lebedeva also aired a clip of a previously recorded interview with Roman Protasevich himself, in which he connected the forced landing of the Ryanair plane with Yan Rudik — his former colleague from the opposition Telegram channel Nexta. Though Sapega didn’t refer to Rudik by name, she said that “it was concluded from conversations with Roman” that someone “from [Protasevich’s] work team” was involved in the diversion of the flight.
Sapega also underscored in the interview that “no KGB officers did anything to us on the plane. There weren’t any.” Asked if she was “still confident” about the alleged involvement of Belarusian intelligence in the incident, Sapega replied, “No. Because I’ve tried never to dwell on this situation. And I’m still in this situation. And probably after the story with me is over, I will need some more time to understand [it] and draw some sound and sober conclusions, to give some kind of assessment. I’m not making any assessments right now.”
Asked about how she’s feeling and her plans for the future, Sapega — who is awaiting trial on two felony charges — told Lebedeva, “It’s too early to talk about plans for the future.” “But at the moment I feel much better than in the first days. I’m doing okay. And I’m ready to move forward,” she added.
Roman Protasevich has given several interview to Belarus state media since his arrest. His family believes these appearances were forced. On June 3, Belarusian state television channel ONT aired a lengthy interview with the journalist, where he criticized the Belarusian opposition and expressed admiration for Alexander Lukashenko. Protasevich’s parents maintained that the interview was conducted under duress. “I’m sure this is the consequences of his more than a week-long stay in the dungeons of the KGB pre-trial detention center, of abuse and torture,” his father told Current Time TV.
The Belarusian authorities have charged Protasevich with three felonies: inciting social enmity and discord, organizing mass riots, and organizing actions that grossly violate public order. Sofia Sapega stands accused on two counts: inciting social enmity and discord, and involvement in mass riots. After spending weeks in a KGB pre-trial detention center in Minsk, Sapega and Protasevich were transferred to house arrest at the end of June. The Belarusian Investigative Committee said that the two detainees had made a plea deal with investigators and confessed.
Commenting on Protasevich’s case during a press conference on August 9, Lukashenko said the journalist “is now practically free.”