Press freedom publicity stunt leads to jail for website editor

If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable. Belarusian security agents have arrested a website editor for publishing photographs of teddy bears, such as the one above.

Anton Suryapin, who runs a site called Belarusian News Photos, carried the pictures on his site after the toys were airdropped over Minsk on 4 July. The bears were pinned with press freedom messages.

The airdrop was carried out by Studio Total, a Swedish advertising agency. On its website, it explains that it did so in order to highlight the international media's neglect of press freedom violations in Belarus. It said it purchased a small plane and flew illegally to Belarus from neighbouring Lithuania.

That resulted last Friday in Suryapin being detained by members of the KGB, the nation's security service, for alleged complicity in an illegal border crossing, a charge that can lead to a seven-year jail term.

Although the airdrop was widely reported in the regional media, Belarusian authorities have since denied it ever took place. The defence ministry told Interfax, the Russian news agency, that its experts had concluded that the photos and videos were fabricated and that the information about the stunt was false and a provocation.

If so, why arrest Suryapin for something that has supposedly never happened? Nina Ognianova, a coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists in Europe and central Asia, said: "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."

She added: "We call on authorities to immediately release Suryapin and drop these senseless criminal charges against him."

Belarus is ranked 10th on the CPJ's "10 most censored report". Anti-press tactics by the country's president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, have included the jailing of journalists, raids on newsrooms and the failure to investigate the murders of at least three journalists.

Sources:CPJ/Belarusian News Photos/Studio Total/Radio Liberty

© Guardian News and Media 2012

[My toy - teddy bear, via]