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By Andrei Aliaksandrau / 26 July 2012
Belarus has now vowed to hold accountable those involved in parachuting teddy bears from a Swedish plane with slogans of human rights into the country, after initially denying their existence. Now there are fears for young journalist Anton Suryapin. Andrei Aliaksandrau reports
Belarus has finally admitted the flight of a small Swedish plane that parachuted teddy bears into the country (as reported by Index on Censorship) did happen. The authorities had previously denied the incident had taken place, in spite of video evidence. President Lukashenko promised today that “the ones to blame will be punished”. He did not mention, though, if Anton Suryapin, a journalist who has been detained as a result of the case, will be among those appointed to be “to blame”.
Suryapin, 20, is being held at the KGB detention centre in Minsk for posting pictures of the bears on his website. Around 1,000 “plush paratroopers” were parachuted over Belarus earlier in July from a plane flown from Lithuania by members of Swedish advertising agency Studio Total; each of the toys held a small poster with slogans in support of human rights and the freedom of expression in the country. The government has allegedly accused the journalist of assisting the breach of the state border.
“This case demonstrates that Belarus remains one of the most hostile media environments on earth, where law enforcement is used to silence free voices,” Index on Censorship said in a statement today.
Index on Censorship also called on the authorities of Belarus to immediately release Anton Suryapin and return his professional equipment confiscated by the KGB.
There is little information on the development of the case. According to the Belarusian law, the prosecution has 10 days to bring official criminal charges to a suspect. As the 10-day limit on detention without charge has passed, it may mean official criminal charges have been brought against the young journalist.
Andrei Aliaksandrau is Index on Censorship’s Belarus and OSCE Programme Officer
Index on Censorship has dedicated its milestone 250th issue to exploring the increasing threats to reporters worldwide. Its special report, Truth in Danger, Danger in Truth: Journalists Under Fire and Under Pressure, is out soon. Highlights include Lindsey Hilsum, writing about her friend and colleague, the murdered war reporter Marie Colvin, and asking whether journalists should still be covering war zones. Stephen Grey looks at the difficulties of protecting sources in an era of mass surveillance.