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Belarus asks for forgiveness from activist Roman Protasevich who was expelled from a Ryanair flight

Belarus has pardoned an opposition activist arrested in 2021 after the Belarusian government forced the landing of a commercial flight he was on and which was passing through its airspace, state media reported on Monday.

The activist, Roman Protasevich, 28, was the editor-in-chief of Nexta, a channel on the Telegram messaging app that was instrumental in organizing mass protests against President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko after his disputed election victory in 2020. Details of Mr Protasevich’s arrest have attracted international attention.

In May, a Belarusian court sentenced Mr Protasevich to eight years in prison for crimes including acts of terrorism and insulting the president. But on Monday, Belta, the Belarusian state news agency, reported that Mr Protasevich had told reporters he had been pardoned, calling it “good news”.

Such leniency for someone who had been an active member of the opposition is unusual in Belarus, where, for nearly three decades in power, Mr Lukashenko has a habit of silencing dissent and violently repressing opponents.

After the decision, Mr Protasevich said he was “incredibly grateful to the country and personally to the president” for pardoning him, according to a video posted by Belta.

Like many Belarusian activists, Mr. Protasevich had fled into exile. But in May 2021 he was on a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania when a Belarusian fighter jet forced the plane to land in Minsk, the Belarusian capital. Security guards arrested him on the tarmac with his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.

After the arrest, Mr Protasevich made a confession which was broadcast on state television and which included an apology for his actions, which his family said were coerced. His statements included praise for Mr Lukashenko and an admission of wanting to overthrow him.

In June 2021, Mr Protasevich denied betraying anyone, but admitted that “many people consider me a traitor” for cooperating with Belarusian authorities after his arrest.

Ms Sapega, who was arrested with him, was sentenced to six years in prison in Belarus. His plea for pardon was denied.

More than 1,500 people in Belarus are considered political prisoners by rights groups and many are said to be serving their sentences in appalling conditions.

nytimes Gt

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