MINSK -- Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has pardoned Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who was serving a six-year prison term in Belarus on charges related to civil disturbances that followed a disputed 2020 presidential election.
Sapega was handed to a delegation from Russia's Far Eastern region of Primorye on June 7 after she was released from prison following Lukashenka's decree pardoning her, the BelTA state news agency said.
She thanked Lukashenka for pardoning her, allowing her to return home, and giving her a second chance, according to BelTA.
Earlier reports said the Russian and Belarusian authorities had agreed to allow Sapega to serve her prison term in Russia.
Sapega and her then-boyfriend, dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich, were detained after their commercial flight from Athens to Vilnius was forced to land in Minsk in May 2021.
Sapega was accused of administering a channel on Telegram that published the personal data of Belarusian security forces. She was sentenced in May 2022.
Belarus said it had ordered the plane to land after an anonymous bomb threat. Evidence later revealed Belarusian officials conspired to fake the bomb threat as a pretense for diverting the plane so they could detain the two.
Pratasevich, who fled Belarus in 2019, worked as an editor at the Poland-based Nexta Live channel on Telegram that extensively covered the violent crackdown on unprecedented protests in Belarus following an August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and Western governments say was stolen by Lukashenka, who has run the country with an iron fist since 1994.
Last month, Pratasevich told journalists he had received a pardon from Lukashenka.
In early May, a Minsk court sentenced Pratasevich to eight years in prison, and his co-defendants, Stsyapan Putsila and Yan Rudzik, who were tried in absentia, to 20 years and 19 years in prison respectively, on charges stemming from their online coverage of the 2020 anti-Lukashenka protests.
Lukashenka has denied stealing the election and has since cracked down hard on the opposition, whose leading members were either jailed or forced to flee the country in fear of their safety.