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Airlines

Belarus charges Russian student it arrested after grounding plane

MOSCOW, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Belarus formally charged the Russian girlfriend of a dissident blogger with inciting social hatred on Wednesday, more than six months after arresting the pair off a commercial flight that Belarusian authorities had forced to land in Minsk.

Sofia Sapega, a student, and blogger Roman Protasevich, a fierce critic of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, were detained after their Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was diverted to Minsk by Belarusian authorities in May.

The European Union and United States imposed sanctions over the diversion of the plane and the arrests. Belarus said it had acted after an anonymous tip-off that there was a bomb on the plane and has called for the sanctions to be lifted.

The Belarusian Investigative Committee said it had charged Sapega with inciting social hatred, threatening police officers and flouting data privacy laws, the state Belta news agency reported, citing the organisation’s head.

Sapega could not be reached to comment on the charges.

Russia’s Izvestia newspaper said that Sapega had agreed to cooperate with the investigation and as such could face only up to six years in jail instead of a maximum of 12 years.

Both Sapega and Protasevich, who is accused of extremism, are under house arrest. They were both being held in rented accommodation but Sapega has since been moved and it is not known where she is now. (Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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