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Nikolai Kuprich after the attack. © 2019 Personal Archive

Update: On December 24, a court in Minsk recognized the crime as hate-motivated and sentenced the perpetrator to one and a half years of restriction of liberty – a sentence similar to house-arrest, except that one is allowed to go to work. Authorities recognizing the hate motive in the attack and bringing the perpetrator to account signals a future of accountability and justice for LGBT people in Belarus.

(Moscow) – Police in Belarus are investigating a brutal attack on a filmmaker and two his friends early on the morning of August 25, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. An unidentified assailant in Minsk verbally threatened the three men and then violently attacked Nikolai Kuprich, the filmmaker. He was hospitalized for days after the attack with serious head injuries.

Kuprich is a documentary filmmaker who has been working with the Belarus Free Theater, a production group, on a film about the prejudice and discrimination that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people face in Belarus. The film titled, “Pussy Boys,” is slated to be released later in 2019.

“The police in Minsk should ensure that their investigation into the attack on the filmmaker Nikolai Kuprich is speedy and impartial,” said Kyle Knight, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should ensure justice for this attack and reassure LGBT people in Belarus that homophobic violence will not be tolerated.”

Around 4 a.m. on August 25, Kuprich, called Kolya by his friends, was walking with a group of about 10 LGBT friends on Oktyabrskaya street in Minsk when the unidentified man approached and asked if they were “faggots,” said Andrei Zavalei, coordinator of Campaign Against Homophobia, Delo Pi.

“The young man [the assailant] took a step back and karate kicked Kolya right in the face,” Zavalei told Human Rights Watch. “Kolya collapsed onto the ground.” The assailant also attacked two other men who were with Kuprich, both of whom had minor injuries.

Zavalei said that a woman who had been with the attacker approached Kuprich, who was crouched on the ground. “She started wiping up the gushing blood and asked him to not call the police,” Zavalei said. He said that the police showed Kuprich footage of the attack from a nearby gas station security camera.

Kuprich is experiencing memory loss, which doctors have said is possibly due to the blows to his head.

On September 3, the Belarus Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on charges of “hooliganism” (Art. 339, Part 1 of the Criminal Code). On September 4, Kuprich appealed to have the charges amended to “intentional infliction of less severe bodily injury” (Art. 149 of the Criminal Code) or “intentional infliction of serious bodily injury, committed on the ground of racial, national, religious hostility or hatred, political or ideological hostility, as well as on the basis of hostility or hatred in relation to any social group” (Art. 147 Part 2 Paragraph 8 of the Criminal Code).

Belarus does not criminalize same-sex conduct but provides no legal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Widespread social hostility toward sexual and gender minorities serves to intimidate LGBT rights activists and allies.

“Instances of homophobic and transphobic violence in Belarus rarely reach the media and the courts,” Zavalei said. “Victims often do not make their stories public and do not file complaints with the police, because of a high risk of re-traumatization and ill-conditioned response even by law enforcement agencies.”

The Belarusian Criminal Code provides for “hatred motive” as an aggravating circumstance for a violent crime. However, in the history of contemporary Belarus, Human Rights Watch is aware of only one case in which a Belarus court recognized a homophobic motive.

By contrast, the prosecution and the court ignored the hatred motive despite evidence and witness testimony to the contrary in a highly publicized homophobic murder case in May 2014. The victim, Mikhail Pishchevsky, was beaten at the door of a gay club and subsequently died of his injuries.

“In Kuprich’s case, the authorities should recognize the hatred motive in the attack,” Knight said. “Recognizing the hate motive, along with an effective, impartial investigation, without delay would be an important signal to the victim and the country’s LGBT community.”

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