The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its regional organisation, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), today demanded the release of Anton Surapin, a Belarus journalist who was arrested on 13th July after he was the first to publish photos of Swedish teddy Bears that had landed on Belarus soil.
He has since been charged with assisting a Swedish Public Relations Company with invading Belarus airspace (illegal trespassing) before dropping the teddy bears and, if convicted, faces up to seven years in jail.
"This incident would be almost funny if it wasn't that an ordinary journalist may have to pay with seven years of his freedom in order to satisfy the pride of a humiliated regime," said Jim Boumelha, IFJ President. ""The charges should be dropped immediately before the incident, with its mixture of comic cruelty, becomes the basis of a script for the next Sacha Baron Cohen film."
The teddy bears, which were dropped over Belarus on 4th July in a PR stunt, landed bearing placards with pro democracy slogans calling for ‘Free Speech Now' or ‘We support the Belarusian Struggle for Free Speech'.
The military are allegedly conducting an investigation into how the Swedish plane managed to breach the airspace without a military response.
Surapin, a 20 year old student at the Belarus Institute of Journalism, claims he was sent the photo by a member of the public before he uploaded the image onto the website of Belarus News Photos. A spokesperson for Studio Total, the PR Company responsible for the stunt, also denies any connection with Surapin.
Surapin is currently being held by the KGB where he has been refused access to his mother or representatives of the Belarus Association of Journalists who have taken up his case.
"This stunt has served to remind us of the knee jerk brutality of a regime that arrests a student in Minsk for publishing photos of an embarrassing breach of security hundreds of kilometres away," said Arne König, EFJ President. ""The government should release Surapin without delay."
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 07
The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries