MINSK -- A Belarus activist has slit his own throat during a court hearing after being warned that if he didn't plead guilty to participating in mass protest, his family and neighbors would face prosecution.
Stsyapan Latypau, who has been in detention since September 2020, cut his throat at the hearing on June 1 and was rushed to hospital where local media said he is still alive.
"Father, after meeting with you, GUBOPiK [the Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption] came to me and warned that if I don't admit my guilt, then I would be thrown in a cell with hardened criminals and criminal cases would be launched against my relatives and neighbors," he said before cutting himself.
Video footage of the incident showed Latypau being carried from the courthouse to an ambulance, with blood spotting his clothes and face. Guards were slow to open the prisoners’ cage he was in because they couldn't find the right keys, according to local media.
Latypau was unconscious when finally removed from the cell.
"He was threatened with the persecution of his family if he didn't admit himself guilty. This is the result of state terror, repressions, torture in Belarus. We must stop it immediately!" exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a post on Twitter.
Latypau was detained on September 15, 2020, as he tried to stop police and workmen from painting over a mural in a residential courtyard that showed off the opposition's red and white colors. The courtyard had become known as Change Square, hosting nightly concerts where protesters angry at authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's claim of victory in a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
He was charged with organizing protests, resisting arrest, and fraud. He was also accused on state television of planning to poison the police. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Latypau is one of tens of thousands of Belarusians to be detained for protesting the election results, which the West has refused to accept.
Lukashenka, in power since 1994, has tightened his grip on the country in recent months in a violent crackdown on dissent that has raised the ire of many Western nations.
Rights groups say there is considerable evidence of torture being used by authorities on detainees.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
In a sign of how far Lukashenka has gone to quell opposition voices, he ordered a Ryanair flight between Athens and Vilnius on May 23 to be escorted to Minsk while it was in Belarusian airspace, claiming a bomb threat had been received even though Vilnius airport was much closer.
No bomb was found when the aircraft was searched on the ground in Minsk, but Lukashenka critic and journalist Raman Pratasevich and a Russian friend aboard the flight were detained.
The European Union and other countries have said the incident will have consequences for Belarus.
The bloc has said it is working on additional economic sanctions on Belarus, while the United States has already taken moves against Belarusian state-owned enterprises. Most European countries have urged their aircraft to avoid Belarus airspace and banned Belarusian carriers from their skies.