Belarusian activist stabs himself in court

Stsiapan Latypau carried out unconscious after claiming he was pressured to plead guilty

Police officers and paramedics carry Stsiapan Latypau into an ambulance in Minsk Police officers and paramedics carry Stsiapan Latypau into an ambulance in Minsk on Tuesday. Photograph: APPolice officers and paramedics carry Stsiapan Latypau into an ambulance in Minsk on Tuesday. Photograph: AP

in Moscow

A Belarusian opposition activist stabbed himself in the throat with a pen during a court hearing after claiming investigators had pressured him to plead guilty or face his family and friends being arrested.

Footage from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed Stsiapan Latypau, who has organised protests against the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, lying inside a defendant’s cage as witnesses screamed in a courtroom in Minsk.

The apparent suicide attempt on Tuesday is the latest evidence of the extraordinary pressure being put on activists during Lukashenko’s year-long crackdown on the opposition and media. In just the last week, an opposition politician died under mysterious circumstances in prison and a teenager under investigation for protesting died after throwing himself from a 16-storey building.

‘Persecuted, jailed, destroyed’: Belarus seeks to stifle dissent

Nasha Niva, an independent Belarusian media outlet, reported that Latypau had stabbed himself in the throat with a pen he took from a stack of court papers during a break in a hearing. He has been held since September 2020 on fraud and other charges that he has called politically motivated.

Before stabbing himself, Latypau climbed up on a courtroom bench and claimed investigators had said “if I don’t plead guilty, they will open criminal cases against my family and neighbours”. Other reports said police had threatened his family with violence.

Latypau was carried unconscious from the courtroom with bloodstains visible on his neck and chest. He has also claimed he was held for nearly two months in a prison cell where inmates are subjected to violence and torture.

“This is the result of state terror, repressions, torture in Belarus,” wrote Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an opposition leader. “We must stop it immediately!”

Lukashenko drew international condemnation last month by diverting a Ryanair flight carrying Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian activist who had fled the country in 2019 and had since lived in exile. He and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, have been arrested.

In response, European countries blocked flights by Belavia, the Belarusian state air carrier, and also banned their own planes from flying in Belarusian airspace.

The government has enacted rules to prevent ordinary Belarusians from leaving the country. As of this week, Belarusians must have a permanent residency in a foreign country in order to leave Belarus, a measure that the state border committee claims is due to the coronavirus epidemic. However, activists say they believe it is to prevent Belarusians from fleeing the country amid the violent crackdown on dissent.

Lukashenko met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, late last week to shore up support from his government’s key foreign ally. On Tuesday, he announced Belarus would soon open direct flights with Crimea, a step toward recognition of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine.


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