Belarus jails guard over Swedes' teddy bear drop
Published: 19 Feb 2013 08:28 GMT+01:00
Updated: 19 Feb 2013 08:28 GMT+01:00
A border guard on duty when a Swedish plane flew over Belarus last summer to drop hundreds of pro-democracy teddy bears has been jailed for failing to stop the stuffed-animal assault.
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On Monday, the Belarus Supreme Court sentenced the guard to two years imprisonment in a maximum security facility for failing to report that a small aircraft had crossed into Belarusian airspace from neighbouring Lithuania on July 4th, 2012.
The plane, piloted by two employees of Swedish PR agency Studio Total, flew for more than an hour in restricted Belarusian airspace, managing to drop hundreds of teddy bears carrying pro-free speech slogans over the town of Ivyanets.
"We made it to the southwestern part of Minsk and dropped about two-thirds of our teddy bears there, but started heading back early after we got a call on the radio in Russian," Studio Total's Tomas Mazetti, who piloted the plane, told The Local at the time.
"The rest we threw out sporadically along the way, including several over Ivyanets."
While authorities in Belarus at first denied that the stunt took place, several Ivyanets residents told of seeing an airplane fly over the town and a number of the pro-democracy teddy bears were later recovered on the ground.
Videos of the incident shot from the plane's cockpit as well as from the ground in Belarus were also later published on the internet.
The incident generated headlines around the world and sparked in a diplomatic spat, with Belarus expelling Sweden's diplomats and recalling its own diplomats from Stockholm.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko fired two generals following the teddy bear drop, and a Belarusian journalist was detained for several weeks after publishing images of the stuffed animals on his blog.
Studio Total carried out the stunt to draw attention to Belarusian opposition groups such as Charter 97 and "Tell the Truth!" which are fighting for free speech in Belarus - a country ruled since 1994 by president Alexander Lukashenko, who is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator".
The name and rank of the jailed border guard was not released.