Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian opposition blogger and the former head of Telegram channel Nexta, previously sentenced to eight years in prison in Belarus, has been pardoned by a decree from president Alexander Lukashenko, according to a report from state-run news agency Belta.
“I've just signed all the relevant documents that I have been pardoned. This, of course, is just great news,” Protasevich told reporters.
The Minsk Regional Court earlier found him guilty of a “conspiracy to seize state power in Belarus by unconstitutional means.”
Protasevich found himself under investigation along with his then-girlfriend, Russian-born Sofia Sapega, after they were hauled off a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius flight on May 23, 2021, following a direct order from Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. A fighter jet escorted the passenger plane to Minsk National Airport.
Protasevich was accused of inciting social hatred, organizing mass riots and actions that “grossly violate public order.” Sapega was charged with inciting social hatred as well as taking part in mass riots. The couple began to cooperate with the investigation, and were released under house arrest, Roman Protasevich then made multiple appearances on Belarusian state media. On the air of the ONT TV channel, he said that he respected Alexander Lukashenko and considered him “a man with balls of steel.”
Sapega was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of illegally collecting and disseminating “information about [one’s] private life that constitutes personal and family secrets, without their consent, causing harm to the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of the victim.” According to the prosecution, Sapega was involved in the administration of the “Black Book of Belarus,” a Telegram channel that published the personal data of security forces involved in the abuse of protesters. In April 2023, Sapega was extradited to Russia, where she will continue serving her sentence.