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Belarus Probes Teddy Bear Caper It Claims Never Happened

An image from Swedish Studio Total's video chronicling the "Teddybear Airdrop" on July 4.
An image from Swedish Studio Total's video chronicling the "Teddybear Airdrop" on July 4.
MINSK -- Thousands of people post pictures of teddy bears on the Internet daily, yet only one has found himself locked away in a Belarusian KGB prison for doing so.

The authorities in Minsk on July 17 extended for 10 days the detention of photographer Anton Surapin, a 20-year-old student at Belarus State University's journalism school, for posting online photographs of stuffed teddy bears that a Swedish public-relations firm says it dropped in Belarus from a plane on July 4.

Surapin was detained on July 13.

He likely faces charges of "helping foreigners illegally enter Belarus." Presumably the charge refers not to the bears, but to the Swedes who say they dropped the toys from a private plane that illegally entered Belarusian airspace in order to protest restrictions of free speech under the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. He could be sentenced to seven years in prison if convicted.

The independent website "Belaruski Partizan" and the human rights website reported on July 17 that a man identified as Syarhey Bashamirau has already been in detention for 11 days. He allegedly rented an apartment to at least one Swedish participant in the stunt and is charged with aiding "an organized group" in illegally crossing the Belarusian state line.

No further information about that case was immediately available.

The government of Belarus has denied that the teddy-bear incident ever happened, saying that the video released by the Swedes had been faked and that the whole thing was a "provocation."


Official media in the country have not reported on the criminal cases connected with the "nonincident."

Surapin's mother, Yelena Surapina, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that Surapin did not take the photographs that he posted and was not anywhere near the place where the teddy bears were alleged to have been dropped.

Anton Surapin has been detained for posting pictures of the teddy bears online.
Anton Surapin has been detained for posting pictures of the teddy bears online.
"It is complete stupidity. He wasn't at any time anywhere near where all this happened. It is just comical. The lawyer said they are working on the case under that article. He says that he doesn't see his guilt," Surapina says.

"The photographs aren't his. They definitely aren't his because he came home and told us that he had a sensation, that something had been sent to him, and so on."

The Swedish public-relations firm Studio Total says it dropped 1,000 teddy bears carrying political slogans over the Belarusian town of Ivyanets, near the Lithuanian border. The company, which has released a 90-minute video of the plane's flight from Lithuania to prove its claim, says the firm's cofounder, Per Cromwell, was on the ground in Ivyanets at the time of the drop.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene told on July 17 that no aircraft crossed that country's airspace into Belarus on July 4. But the Baltic News Agency on July 5 reported a Lithuanian army source as saying that an aircraft had been observed crossing the border on the previous day.

"We cannot say whether this is connected with the incident reported by the media," the unnamed military source said.

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this story from Prague.

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