A Belarusian opposition activist arrested after his Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk has been sentenced to eight years in prison.
Roman Protasevich was hauled off his flight and arrested on charges of inciting unrest in May 2021.
On Thursday, the Minsk regional court found him guilty of a series of offences relating to his work as an editor at an opposition media outlet.
Belarusian state media, Belta, said he would serve the time in a penal colony.
Among the charges Mr Protasevich was tried for were organising mass riots, calling for sanctions against Belarus, creating or leading an extremist group, and conspiring to seize power.
Mr Protasevich had been flying from Greece to Lithuania in May 2021 when Belarusian air traffic control suddenly diverted the flight to Minsk, claiming there was a bomb threat.
He was hauled from the plane and arrested, alongside his girlfriend, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega.
The arrests caused international outcry and led to the EU imposing sanctions against the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Western countries accused Belarus of hijacking the Ryanair plane under the pretext of the bomb threat.
In May 2022 Sofia Sapega was sentenced to six years in jail for inciting discord.
Until November 2020, Mr Protasevich worked as editor of the opposition Nexta channel on the Telegram messaging app.
The channel was founded by a fellow dissident, Stepan Putilo, who was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison on Thursday. Mr Putilo is currently in exile in Poland.
Nexta and Nexta Live were used to mobilise protests across Belarus in 2020 – which were the biggest in the country’s history.
After Mr Protasevich’s arrest, his family said he was forced into making fake confessions and issuing apologetic statements on state television.
In one appearance, he praised the Belarusian leader and admitted to attempting to topple him. His public criticism of the Belarusian opposition has fuelled speculation that he has come under intense pressure from authorities.
Belarus has been ruled by the same leader, Mr Lukashenko, since 1994. He defied months of protests in 2020 as opposition politicians and activists were arrested and held in prison.
Source : BBC