Accessibility links

Breaking News


The pretrial detention center No. 1 of the Minsk police department, where Maya Raiten is being held.

MINSK -- An Israeli woman who has been held in Belarus for over a month after customs officials found her carrying 2.5 grams of prescription marijuana has urged Israeli authorities to get her "out of this hell."

Maya Raiten, a lawyer, was arrested on November 11 upon her arrival in Minsk, where she came to provide legal assistance to an Israeli businessman.

Raiten says she had a medical note for the marijuana, which she uses for pain control, but Belarusian authorities said the document had no legal standing in the country and that possessing marijuana in Belarus is a serious crime.

Israeli media published a letter from Raiten on December 7 in which she wrote: "I will not last much longer here."

"I am going through excruciating agony, driven by worries for my children, my beloved parents who are not young.... I am cut off from communication of any kind to the world outside," Raiten's letter says, adding that none of the three other women in her cell can speak English or Hebrew.

Media reports in Israel say the country's embassy in Minsk is aware of the situation and has been working on Raiten's release since the day of her arrest.

With reporting by Kan
If convicted, Sofia Sapega could face up to six years in prison. 

Belarusian prosecutors have filed final charges against Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, who was arrested along with her boyfriend, opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich, after authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka ordered a passenger plane they were on diverted as it flew over the country's airspace.

The chairman of Belarus's Investigative Committee, Dzmitry Hara, told reporters on December 8 that Sapega has been charged with inciting social hatred, damaging information security, mishandling private data, and threatening law enforcement.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.

If convicted, Sapega could face up to six years in prison.

Hara added that the official charges and the case will be handed to Sapega and her defense team "in the near future."

Hara said several former employees of the BelTelecom communication company, as well as users of the Telegram social-media platform, will be tried in the case.

Sapega, who has lived most of her life in Belarus, and Pratasevich, who is Belarusian, were arrested on May 23 when Lukashenka scrambled a military jet to escort a Ryanair passenger flight over its airspace to land in Minsk.

Many countries regard the diversion as a "state hijacking."

After the plane landed, law enforcement officers immediately arrested the two, who were flying from Athens to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. They were later put under house arrest.

Pratasevich faces charges of playing a role in civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

He was a key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live that had been covering mass protests against the official results of the election, which handed Lukashenka a sixth presidential term, despite widespread criticism that the vote was rigged.

Lukashenka's regime has been under international pressure since it launched a brutal crackdown to put down the protests.

The EU, the United States, and other countries have refused to recognize the official results of the vote and do not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader.

Many of those countries have since slapped several rounds of coordinated sanctions on Belarus.

Load more

About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


Journalists In Trouble

RFE/RL journalists take risks, face threats, and make sacrifices every day in an effort to gather the news. Our "Journalists In Trouble" page recognizes their courage and conviction, and documents the high price that many have paid simply for doing their jobs. More