Belarusian prosecutors have filed final charges against Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, who was arrested along with her boyfriend, opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich, after authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered a passenger plane they were on diverted as it flew over the country's airspace.
The chairman of Belarus's Investigative Committee, Dzmitry Hara, told reporters on December 8 that Sapega has been charged with inciting social hatred, damaging information security, mishandling private data, and threatening law enforcement.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
If convicted, Sapega could face up to six years in prison.
Hara added that the official charges and the case will be handed to Sapega and her defense team "in the near future."
Hara said several former employees of the BelTelecom communication company, as well as users of the Telegram social-media platform, will be tried in the case.
Sapega, who has lived most of her life in Belarus, and Pratasevich, who is Belarusian, were arrested on May 23 when Lukashenka scrambled a military jet to escort a Ryanair passenger flight over its airspace to land in Minsk.
Many countries regard the diversion as a "state hijacking."
After the plane landed, law enforcement officers immediately arrested the two, who were flying from Athens to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. They were later put under house arrest.
Pratasevich faces charges of playing a role in civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
He was a key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live that had been covering mass protests against the official results of the election, which handed Lukashenka a sixth presidential term, despite widespread criticism that the vote was rigged.
Lukashenka's regime has been under international pressure since it launched a brutal crackdown to put down the protests.
The EU, the United States, and other countries have refused to recognize the official results of the vote and do not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader.
Many of those countries have since slapped several rounds of coordinated sanctions on Belarus.