Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Belarusian authorities to ensure justice for a brutal attack on documentary filmmaker Mikalai Kuprych last month, and to reassure members of the country's LGBT community that "homophobic violence won't be tolerated."
The suspected attacker was detained two weeks after the August 25 attack, which left Kuprych hospitalized for days with a head injury and a broken nose.
He has experienced memory loss with doctors saying it could be due to the blows to his head, HRW said in a statement on September 12.
Kyle Knight, senior LGBT rights researcher at the New York-based human rights watchdog, called on police to conduct a "speedy and impartial" investigation into the attack in a country where social hostility toward sexual and gender minorities is "widespread."
Kuprych was walking with a group of LGBT friends in the capital, Minsk, when a young man approached and asked if they were "faggots," the HRW statement quoted LGBT rights campaigner Andrey Zavaley as saying.
The assailant then "karate kicked" Kuprych in the face and the filmmaker "collapsed onto the ground," Zavaley said.
He also attacked two other men who were with Kuprych, both of whom had minor injuries.
The Belarus Investigative Committee on September 3 opened a criminal case on charges of "hooliganism" and detained the suspect four days later.
Kuprych identified the 19-year-old man as the attacker.
The filmmaker has appealed to have the charges changed to "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."
The Criminal Code provides for "hatred motive" as an aggravating circumstance for a crime.
"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."
Belarus does not criminalize same-sex conduct but provides "no legal protections" against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to HRW.
Instances of homophobic violence "rarely reach" the Belarusian media and the courts," the statement cited Zavaley as saying.
"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 an ill-conditioned response even by law enforcement agencies," the LGBT activist said.
Kuprych has been working on a documentary about the LGBT community in Belarus.
The film Pussy Boys, produced by the Belarus Free Theater, is set to be released later this year.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service
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