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Journalist arrested over Swedish teddy bear pics

16 Jul 2012, 12:23

Published: 16 Jul 2012 12:23 GMT+02:00

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Journalist Anton Suryapin was among the first to publish images of teddy bears reportedly found on the ground in in Belarus holding pro-free speech slogans, posting several images on the news website he manages, Belarusian News Photos (www.bnp.by).

The bears were dropped in the early morning of July 4th as part of a publicity stunt carried out by Swedish PR firm Studio Total as a show of support for pro-democracy activists in Belarus.

But at the weekend it emerged that Suryapin had been arrested by Belarusian security police on July 13th and was being detained for 72 hours, according to Russian media reports and reports on Charter 97, a news website associated with the pro-democracy movement in Belarus.

Suryapin's partner at Belarusian News Photos, Sergey Yagelo, also tweeted about his colleague's arrest and posted news of the event on the site, explaining that investigators had called Suryapin's mother to inform her of her son's arrest.

"He said that Anton Suryapin had been detained for 72 hours to determine the involvement of the editor in the 'Swedish assault'," Yagelo wrote, along with a screenshot of text messages from Suryapin saying his apartment had been searched.

Defence ministry officials in Belarus continue to dismiss the Swedish teddy bear drop as a "hoax", and media in Sweden were also initially sceptical that Studio Total had actually organized and carried out the daring flight into restricted air space.

However, Studio Total at the weekend released nearly 90 minutes of additional video footage shot from the plane which includes scenes from the take-off in Lithuania as well as aerial shots from the town of Ivyanets, the town outside of Minsk where residents reported finding teddy bears on the ground following the July 4th flight.

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A white car can be seen on the ground from which Studio Total founder Per Cromwell shot video of the plane as it flew over Ivyanets.

Experts consulted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) confirmed that the footage had not been edited and were also able to verify where the plane crossed over the Lithuania-Belarus border with the aid of Google maps.

It remains unclear if Suryapin's arrest is at all connected to the release of the additional video footage, the first installment of which was posted on July 12th as part of an ongoing effort by Studio Total to certify that the stunt actually took place following initial doubts that the flight was a hoax.

Speaking with The Local following Suryapin's arrest, Studio Total's Tomas Mazetti, who was one of the pilots on the plane, said concern over such arrests was "one reason we needed to be vague" in the release information immediately following the drop.

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The images posted by Suryapin on July 4th were among the first to show teddy bears which appear to be identical with the bears dropped over Belarus from the Studio Total plane.

When contacted by The Local on July 5th regarding the images, Suryapin explained they had been sent to him via email.

"I received the pictures from an anonymous person with a dubious e-mail address," Suryapin told The Local.

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The text of the email sent with the pictures claimed the sender was "a few dozen kilometres" outside of Minsk and told of how he or she came across the collection of plush toys.

"At 8 am I went outside and saw the plane flying. He was flying very low, and I even saw the person flying it. I waved to him, and he threw me three bears with flags on parachutes!" the email read, according to Suryapin.

The brazen publicity stunt began when Mazetti and fellow Studio Total colleague Hannah Lina Frey took off from a small airfield in neighbouring Lithuania and penetrated Belarusian airspace headed for the capital Minsk with the aim of dropping 1,000 stuffed bears on the presidential palace of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The agency carried out the teddy bear drop, which took several months of planning and cost roughly 1 million kronor ($143,000) was meant 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 Lukashenko, who is often referred to as "Europe's last dictator".

David Landes

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Your comments about this article

13:11 July 16, 2012 by robban70226
What will happen if anybody violates the Air space of any other country to distribute propaganda? The country have rge right to shut down the plane with no explanation, Do that in New York, Washington England ans see.

I have no sympathy with them they committed a serious crime against another country and deserve to be punished for it, The ame rule applies to all regardless or origin, Did the crime.. have the balls to pay the price!!!
14:16 July 16, 2012 by Brock_and_Roll
Robban - the difference is that New York and England are part of well-established democracies!

Surely if you live in a dictatorship you have a moral right to strike a blow for freedom (albeit you will be in hot water if you get caught).

Were the French resistance terrorists? Was Claus von Stauffenberg a terrorist for trying to kill Hitler? Nelson Mandela - terrorist or freedom fighter?

As the saying goes "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter"
15:45 July 16, 2012 by playmobil
Don't think anyone would mind a small plane with free speech teddybears in countries were press is known to be free already.. you probably even can get authorisation to do so, it would just be ridiculous to ask for something they already have...

Don't try to move the problem on the plane robban..'

the problem is indeed the possibility of free speech in Belarus everyone knows it, but its hard to express it there.. isn't it?
19:24 July 16, 2012 by Rishonim
I am with you robban. He violated the airspace of country and he should pay the consequences. If he feel so strong about the issue then why don't he try the same in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Iran?
21:14 July 16, 2012 by muscle
with all due respect, sweden itself is not having full democracy. I hate this thing. First these people disrupt the workings of other countries, and then when the immigrants start coming in, these people start hating immigrants.

Stop this non-sense. No form of govt is completely good or completely bad if not implemented properly. Its like calling for rights for women in asian countries and having no woman ruler for ages in their own countries. And you guys talk crap about asian countries who have had a number of times, female senior judges, prime ministers and presidents, including the high ranking officials in military.

If you are so much interested in democracy then implement full democracy in your own countries. Let the people openly claim in public that they like hitler or stalin. And THEN do whatever you want to do!
00:28 July 17, 2012 by playmobil
How much some people love dictatorships its amazing :)
06:09 July 17, 2012 by Ian C. Purdie - Sydney
@ 00:28 July 17, 2012 by playmobil

"How much some people love dictatorships its amazing :)"

Especially much beloved by western nations, particularly the USA, which regularly greases the dictator's Swiss bank account.

Just so long as they continue to remain fully compliant.
08:11 July 17, 2012 by robban70226
this planet will be more pcefull if people stop trying to impose their personal agendas in others, trying to social colonization of others is not the right way to maintain peace, learn to live and let live, if you can not stand the heat get out of the kitchen. for good or bad it is their country, up to them to change withoud so many idiots sticking their hands in other peoples pie. respect others if you want to be respected, being a propaganda swedish moron dont give him the right to interfere in others' life
08:20 July 17, 2012 by RobinHood
@Robban and Rishonim

Please read the story above at least once before you comment. There is no suggestion the arrested journalist violated Belarusian airspace. He was arrested for publishing pictures of teddy bears on his news website.

If you have any questions, please ask me.
09:57 July 17, 2012 by muscle

It has nothing to do with love for dictatorship or anything. Let the revolutions come from within not by third party interference!

Its funny, when swedish people decided to go to CHINA and protest there. Haha. You guys dont even have a POPULATION, and you feel that your form of govt will work for a country whose economy is building while being under communism ! And that very country is now becoming the biggest economy and a super power (under communism).

Its funny, how you people think. Does this mean that democracy is a failed form of govt and communism is better ? No. It just means, every form of govt is good if properly implemented! Even Monarchy!
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