WARNING: Graphic and distressing content and images.
Horrific images have emerged from a courtroom in the Eastern European nation of Belarus, where a political activist stabbed himself in the neck with a pen on the first day of his trial overnight.
The disturbing act has shone another global spotlight on the chaotic political situation in the nation of 9.5 million – which is sometimes referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship.
It comes just days after the nation caused a global outcry after forcing a commercial plane flying from Greece to Lithuania to change course and land in Belarus, allegedly as part of a “shocking” and “unprecedented” plot by the country’s government to arrest one of the passengers.
Roman Protasevich, an opposition Belarusian journalist, was arrested off the flight when it was forced to land in Minsk. He is just one of thousands of demonstrators detained in the former Eastern Bloc country over the past 10 months.
Another is Stepan Latypov, who was facing the first day of his trial overnight before it was horrifically cut short.
Horrendous footage shows Mr Latypov in a cage in courtroom before he suddenly collapses and security guards rush over.
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Thousands of anti-government activists arrested
Viasna, an independent rights group monitoring the trial of Mr Latypov, said it believed the activist had taken the desperate action following the pressure of being in detention.
Thousands of opposition activists and protesters have been arrested and gone on trial in a harsh crackdown on anti-government demonstrations that erupted last year.
Mr Latypov, 41, was detained in September and went on trial in the capital Minsk on Tuesday on multiple charges including creating protest symbols and resisting law enforcement.
Viasna said he appeared in court with bruises and that after his father was questioned Mr Latypov climbed on a bench and stabbed himself in the neck with what appeared to be a pen.
“Stepan turned blue and lay down on the bench. An ambulance was called,” Viasna said.
Unconscious, he was taken out of the courtroom and hospitalised, Viasna said.
On Tuesday evening, the Belarusian health ministry said Mr Latypov had regained consciousness and his life was not in danger.
“All necessary medical measures have been taken,” the ministry said on its Telegram account.
“The patient is in a stable condition; there is no danger of death.”
Mr Latypov had told his father he had come under pressure in detention, Viasna said, which along with other groups declared him a political prisoner last year.
Prominent opposition politician Andrei Sannikov said it was an “act of desperation” and another demonstration of the “murderous nature” of President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.
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Presidential election the spark for demonstrations
Belarus has been gripped by months of demonstrations that erupted after a disputed presidential election last August saw Alexander Lukashenko win a sixth term in office.
He claimed 80 per cent of the vote, but it came amid stories of fraud and vote-rigging.
Security forces cracked down hard on the protests, detaining and imprisoning thousands of demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile.
Several people died in the unrest.
Another Belarusian political activist, 50-year-old Vitold Ashurok, died in jail in the east of the country last month, reportedly of cardiac arrest.