New York, July 18, 2012–Belarusian security agents should immediately release a website editor who has been jailed for publishing photographs of teddy bears, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The KGB, the nation’s security service, is holding Anton Suryapin for alleged complicity in an illegal border crossing–a charge that can bring up to seven years in prison–after the editor ran photos of the stuffed animals, which were reportedly dropped from the skies over Minsk as part of a publicity stunt.
“Are Belarusian security agents worried that teddy bears are engaged in an illegal border crossing? It would be hard to keep a straight face about these absurd charges were it not for the fact that Anton Suryapin is sitting in jail,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on authorities to immediately release Suryapin and drop these senseless criminal charges against him.”
Agents detained Suryapin on Friday after raiding the editor’s apartment, news reports said. Suryapin had published on his website, Belarusian News Photos, pictures of the teddy bears pinned with press freedom messages that had been airdropped on July 4 by members of Studio Total, a Swedish advertising agency, the reports said.
In a statement on its website, Studio Total said it was upset by the international media’s neglect of press freedom violations in Belarus and had decided to call attention to the issue. The group purchased a small plane and illegally flew to Belarus from neighboring Lithuania, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
Suryapin, who was one of the first Belarusian journalists to report on Studio Total’s stunt, said on his website that an anonymous person had emailed him the photos, which were taken outside Minsk.
Although the airdrop was widely reported in the regional media, Belarusian authorities denied it ever took place and said no foreign planes had illegally crossed the border on July 4. The defense ministry told Interfax, the Russian news agency, that its experts had analyzed the photos and videos and concluded they were fabricated and that the information about the stunt was false and a provocation.
Belarus ranked 10th on CPJ’s 10 Most Censored report, a list of countries where the press is most tightly restricted. President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s anti-press tactics have included journalist imprisonments, raids on independent newsrooms, the prosecution of journalists, and the failure to investigate the murders of at least three journalists in the past 10 years.
- For more data and analysis on Belarus, visit CPJ’s Belarus page here.