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Belarus Opposition Activist Stabs Himself in Court Hearing

In this handout frame released by RFE/RL, police officers carry Stsiapan Latypau, a Belarusian activist who was attempted to kill himself during a court hearing to protest political repression, to an ambulance in Minsk, June 1, 2021.

A Belarusian opposition activist stabbed himself in the throat with a pen during a court hearing in Minsk on Tuesday to protest what he claimed were threats from authorities to arrest his family members and friends if he did not plead guilty to organizing protests against the country's authoritarian ruler, President Alexander Lukashenko.

Footage from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty showed Stsiapan Latypau lying limp on a bench in the defendant’s cage after his self-inflicted wounding as guards tended to him.

The video showed him being carried unconscious from the courthouse on a stretcher, his neck wrapped in a white cloth, and put into an ambulance.

The Viasna human rights center in Belarus said Latypau was put into an induced coma. His lawyer declined to comment on his condition.

Before he stabbed himself, Latypau climbed on the bench in the cage and claimed investigators had told him, “If I don’t plead guilty, they will open criminal cases against my family and neighbors.”

Latypau has been held since September 2020 on various charges, including accusations that he staged actions violating the public order in last summer’s vast protests against Lukashenko. The street demonstrations occurred after the strongman claimed a sixth presidential election victory with 80% of the vote.

If convicted, Latypau faces up to 10 years in prison.

Latypau’s apparent attempted suicide is the latest incident with links to protests against Lukashenko. Last week, an opposition politician died in prison under unclear circumstances, while a teenager under investigation for protesting committed suicide by throwing himself from a 16-story building.

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

Many governments, except Russia, a close ally of Belarus, condemned Lukashenko last month after he diverted a Ryanair jetliner flying over Belarus and carrying Raman Pratasevich, a Belarusian activist who had fled the country in 2019 and had since lived in exile.

Pratasevich and his companion, Sofia Sapega, were arrested when the flight landed in Minsk on the purported claim of a bomb aboard the aircraft, although no explosive was found.

In response, European countries stopped flying over Belarus, depriving Minsk of overflight revenue, and blocked flights by Belavia, the Belarusian state air carrier, from landing in European cities.

Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin late last week to shore up support with his government’s key foreign ally. On Tuesday, Lukashenko announced Belarus would soon open direct flights with Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Russia annexed in 2014, although Western governments do not recognize Moscow’s claim to the territory.