MOSCOW — An opposition activist in Belarus stabbed himself in the throat with a pen during a court hearing Tuesday after claiming that investigators had threatened to prosecute his family and neighbors if he did not plead guilty.
A video clip recorded just after the stabbing showed the activist, Stepan Latypov, lying on a bench inside a defendant’s cage with police officers trying to lift him. Onlookers could be heard screaming in the footage, taken inside the courtroom in the capital, Minsk, by Nasha Niva, a news website in Belarus.
Latypov, who was facing charges that included inciting social unrest, was later seen being carried out of the court building to an ambulance, his shirt marked with blood, in a video taken by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He was receiving treatment at a hospital and was in stable condition, according to a statement from the country’s Health Ministry.
The apparent suicide attempt comes amid increasingly repressive efforts by President Alexander Lukashenko, the brutal and erratic longtime leader of Belarus, to stifle all dissent in the country.
Last month, Lukashenko’s government ordered a commercial jet flying through the country’s airspace to land and arrested an opposition journalist who was aboard, Roman Protasevich, who had been living in exile.
Latypov was one of the many opposition activists who emerged during the wave of enormous protests that swept through Belarus in the aftermath of the presidential election last August. Lukashenko claimed an overwhelming victory in that contest but the results were widely dismissed as fraudulent and were rejected by the European Union.
Angry with the official results, Latypov helped organize a makeshift protest mural in the courtyard of his apartment building in Minsk.
In September, police officers arrested Latypov as he tried to defend the mural against their attempts to destroy it. He was accused of resisting arrest, large-scale fraud and incitement of public unrest.
During Tuesday’s court hearing, Latypov said that members of an elite Belarusian police unit came to him and told him that unless he pleaded guilty he would face a “torture cell and criminal cases against relatives and neighbors,” according to Viasna, a Belarusian human rights group that was monitoring the trial.
“I was in a torture cell for 51 days,” Latypov told his father in the courtroom, before stabbing himself.
Latypov is one of 454 political prisoners being held by the country’s law enforcement, according to a list compiled by Viasna. More than 32,000 people were arrested over the course of the protests, with hundreds of them saying they were tortured while in custody.
Up to 200,000 people took part in protest rallies at their peak in August and September, many believing that Lukashenko’s departure was certain and imminent.
But backed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and using force against civilian demonstrators on a scale unseen in Europe for decades, Lukashenko managed to stifle the popular movement against his rule.
Discouraged by Lukashenko’s determination to use whatever means necessary to crack down on dissent, many Belarusians started to flee the country.
Leaving became more difficult, however, after the European Union banned Belarusian planes from its air space as part of the response to Lukashenko’s forced diversion of the Ryanair flight carrying Protasevich, which European officials described as a state hijacking.
On Tuesday, the Belarusian government made leaving even harder yet. The border guard service said in a statement that only people with a permanent residence permit in a foreign country would be allowed to depart.