MINSK -- A Belarus activist has cut 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 the 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 didn'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.
The Health Ministry said in the evening that he had regained consciousness.
"The patient is in a stable condition. There is no danger of death," it said on its Telegram account.
Exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in a post on Twitter that Latypau "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!"
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 events drawing 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 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.
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 his Russian girlfriend 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.
After meeting with Tsikhanouskaya in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on June 1, members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for harsher economic sanctions on Lukashenka's regime and the release of Pratasevich, his girlfriend, as well as other political prisoners in Belarus.
The sanctions currently in place "clearly have not been effective enough,” Senator Rob Portman (Republican-Ohio) said, adding: “I will support broader sanctions that would be sectoral sanctions, not just on individuals, but on places where Lukashenka's regime will feel the pain."
Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) said the plane incident was "brazen," while Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) called it an "extraordinary abuse of power.”
"To Lukashenka, I say: It is time for you to go. Make room for a democratically elected leader more deserving of your people," Shaheen said.
Tsikhanouskaya said that Lukashenka “has clearly become a threat to international peace and security” and called for "further measures and targeted sanctions against enterprises and industries supporting the regime."