A Belarusian court convicted a dissident journalist who was arrested after being pulled off a commercial flight that was diverted to the country and sentenced him Wednesday to eight years in prison.
Raman Pratasevich’s dramatic arrest in May 2021 elicited outrage in the West, with some leaders saying the plane’s diversion was tantamount to state-sponsored hijacking.
Belarusian flight controllers ordered the Ryanair jetliner traveling between Greece and Lithuania to land in Minsk, telling the crew that there was a bomb threat against the flight. No explosives were found on board, and Pratasevich, who lived in exile at the time, was detained once the plane was on the ground. His Russian girlfriend was also arrested.
In response, several Western countries imposed a raft of new sanctions and barred their planes from flying over Belarus.
Pratasevich ran a Telegram messaging app channel that was widely used by participants in mass protests against the disputed 2020 election that gave authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. He was charged with organizing unrest and plotting to seize power.
The founder of the Telegram channel, Stepan Putilo, and another editor of the channel, Yan Rudik, were sentenced in absentia to 20 and 19 years in prison respectfully. Both remain in exile.