THE parents of the detained girlfriend of Belarus opposition journalist Roman Protasevich fear she could be tortured to put pressure on him.
Sofia Sapega's parents are now begging Russian leader Vladimir Putin to intervene to save their daughter who has been locked up in a notorious detention centre in Minsk.
The worried parents fear that the 23-year-old Sofia, originally from Russia, has been caught up in Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s vendetta against her activist boyfriend and that she can be compromised with “false allegations”.
The couple had been on holiday in Greece and were en route to Lithuania when their Ryanair plane was forced down in Minsk over a bogus "bomb scare".
“I know that the place where she is held now sadly has a really poor reputation, with accounts of a certain kind about what goes on there,” said her dad, Andrey Sapega, referring to claims of torture by police and KGB on inmates.
“However strong she is, the guys now dealing with the destiny of my daughter, they can break anyone."
Last August freed detainees who were arrested for protesting against Lukashenko gave details of beatings during days in custody with Amnesty International calling it "widespread torture."
Human Rights Watch reported on victims' claims of beatings, electric shocks and in one case, rape, in Lukashenko's torture chambers.
The prisoners had serious injuries including broken bones, skin wounds, cracked teeth, electrical burns and mild traumatic brain injuries.
Some of the prisons had kidney damage.
“I am very, very concerned for Sofia," her dad said.
"Why do the Belorussian authorities need her now? As a way of putting pressure on Roman? I don’t know, but it’s quite likely.”
The businessman and his ex-wife Anna Dudich, who lives in Belarus, have been unable to reach her, as has a lawyer they have appointed.
“We can only guess as there is nothing at all from the Belorussian side.”
Sofia's mum Anna has written to Putin to call on him to intervene and to the Russian foreign ministry.
“I sent a letter to the President of Russia’s administration asking for help. I don’t know the efficiency of these letters but I have no other options,” she said.
Putin’s spokesman said today that he hoped Sofia would be freed “after all the necessary legal procedures are completed”, but the Minsk authorities hinted at charges relating to involvement in the protests last summer.
“I hope our authorities will clear up the situation and I actually demand not to ruin the life of my daughter, as it is the demolition of my child’s life,” said Anna.
The Belarus authorities said today that she had been detained for 72 hours due to suspicions of crimes in August and September 2020 when protests were rampant against Lukashenko.
A decision will be made on any charges within three days.
On Monday Protasevich appeared on state TV saying he is in good health and acknowledging having played a role in organising mass disturbances last year.
He said on Monday: "I am in Detention Centre No1 in Minsk. I can say that I have no health problems, including with my heart or any other organs.
"The attitude of employees towards me is as correct as possible and according to the law. I continue cooperating with investigators and am confessing to having organised mass unrest in the city of Minsk."
The comments were immediately dismissed by his allies as made under duress, adding that he was almost certainly being tortured.
"This is how Raman looks under physical and moral pressure. I demand the immediate release of Raman and all political prisoners," a leader of Belarusian opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, wrote on Twitter.
In the video he appeared to have a small black spot on his forehead.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya told Sky News that she feared Protasevich may have been tortured.
An hour after the footage appeared online European Union leaders agreed to impose sanctions on Belarus.
Meeting in Brussels, the 27 national leaders of the bloc demanded an immediate release of Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia as well as an investigation by the International Organization for Civilian Aviation into the incident on Sunday.
Earlier today furious EU leaders announced the banning of Belarus airlines from flying over the continent's airspace and from using any of its airports
The European nations slapped sanctions over its alleged hijacking of a Ryanair flight.
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