Belarusian opposition activist stabs himself in throat during court hearing in protest

A Belarusian opposition activist stabbed a pen into his throat while attending a hearing at a Minsk court on Tuesday (June 1), protesting authorities’ threats to arrest his friends and family if he did not plead guilty to organizing protests against President Lukashenka.

Footage broadcast by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed Stsiapan Latypau collapsing on a bench in the defendant’s cage after injuring himself, while guards tended to his injuries.

The footage shows him being carried out of the courthouse on a stretcher with his neck wrapped in a white cloth and taken to an ambulance.

The Human Rights Center in Viasna, Belarus, said Latipau went into a drug-controlled artificial coma. His lawyer declined to comment on the issue.

Before climbing onto the bench of the defendant’s cage before injuring himself, Latipauu claimed investigators told him, “If I don’t confess, they will open a criminal case against my family and neighbors.”

Latipau has been charged with multiple counts in 2020 and has remained in custody, including disrupting public order for his actions during last summer’s mass protests against Lukashenko.

If convicted, Latipau could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Latipau’s apparent suicide attempt is the latest incident related to the anti-Lukashenko protests. An opposition political figure died in prison last week of unknown causes, and a teenager under investigation for protest actions also jumped to his death from a 16-story building.

“This is the result of state terror, oppression and torture in Belarus,” wrote Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya. “We must stop it immediately!”

Lukashenko’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight last month and the arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian activist in exile since 2019, has been condemned by various countries, but Belarus’ close ally Russia has voiced support for him.

Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested after the airliner was diverted to land at Minsk airport. The plane was ordered by Belarus to divert because of an alleged threat of a bomb on board, but no explosives were found on the plane.

In response, European countries halted overflights of Belarusian airspace, denying the Belarusian government overflight revenues and preventing flights of state-owned Belarusian Airlines (Belavia) from landing in the European city.

Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to solidify the support of the Russian government, a key foreign ally. Lukashenko announced Tuesday that Belarus will soon open direct flights with Crimea. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, but Western governments do not recognize Russia’s claim to sovereignty over Crimea.