Belarusian Activist Sentenced After Trying To Take Own Life In Court

On August 16th, the courts of Belarus sentenced Stepan Latypov, a Belarusian activist and political prisoner, to eight and a half years in prison. He was originally put on trial in June after being arrested in September amid a violent government crackdown on political opposition. Latypov’s story, however, became known out of thousands of Belarus’s politically detained due to his first appearance in court. His trial earlier this summer was postponed when Latypov stabbed his own neck after recounting the threats that were targeted at his family and the torture he experienced while imprisoned. He received medical treatment and, three months later, was brought back to be issued a verdict. Latypov faced charges of arranging riots, resisting the police, and fraud, according to Reuters. While he pleaded not guilty, he was unable to escape confinement as the Belarusian government persists with its order of repression and terror.

Within the past year, the citizens of Belarus have seen rampant violence and human rights abuses. In a report on the Eastern European country, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur, Anaïs Marin, described the current situation: “the Belarusian authorities have launched a full-scale assault against civil society, curtailing a broad spectrum of rights and freedoms, targeting people from all walks of life, while systematically persecuting human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and lawyers in particular.” These aggressive governmental actions have drawn the outrage of Belarus’s public. Hugh Williamson, the director for Europe and Central Asia at the Human Rights Watch, stated that “the sweeping brutality of the crackdown shows the lengths to which the Belarusian authorities will go to silence people, but tens of thousands of peaceful protesters continue to demand fair elections and justice for abuses.”

Belarus has developed into a humanitarian disaster as the government attacks its political opponents and supporters of human rights. In the days following the nation’s presidential election last year, which has been deemed fraudulent by multiple independent organizations, almost 7,000 people were detained by security forces in raids against peaceful protests⁠—that number has since reached 35,000, as reported by the United Nations. Contested Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has created an authoritarian state that condemns those who disagree with his regime and inhumane methods. The government of Belarus cannot continue to threaten, detain, and repress its opposition, actions that directly violate international human rights. Their efforts to impair peaceful demonstrations put the safety and security of Belarusian civil society at risk; if left unrestrained, such violence will only propel the country into greater chaos.

The Eastern European nation has faced a brutal government crackdown and human rights abuses since August 2020 when a disputed presidential election sparked large-scale protests. Among the thousands of political prisoners like Latypov are reports of police brutality and torture. The Human Rights Watch group investigated the systematic imprisonment and persecution of peaceful protesters and detailed the utilization of beatings, electric shocks, and prolonged stress to maltreat those detained. The freedoms of expression and assembly have deteriorated as the Belarusian government restricts human rights. Over a thousand dissidents have fled the country, including leaders of opposing political parties, while others have been forcibly exiled. Accounts from women in Belarus have detailed threats of sexual violence and of their children being taken away, according to Amnesty International.

As the populace of Belarus continues to suffer under the oppression of their government, there needs to be an increased focus on peace and accountability. Activists like Latypov, who experience the injustice of being arbitrarily imprisoned, threatened, and tortured, do not deserve punishment for fighting for human rights and a free system. International actors must work together to hold the Belarusian government to world standards of electoral credibility and fair treatment. The persistent use of violence in responding to peaceful protests only exacerbates the situation and causes more harm. Belarus must stop employing force and restricting its citizens. Safety, security, and human rights are essential components of civil society that should be valued above political pursuits. Continuing this violent crackdown hurts both the Belarusian people and the country’s future stability.