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STRASBOURG, August 9 (Itar-Tass) —— The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, on Wednesday, August 8, asked Belarusian authorities to drop charges against Anton Suryapin, who faces up to seven years in prison for uploading photos of teddy bears that had been released by plane into Belarus.
“I am surprised and alarmed that Anton Suryapin has been indicted for uploading teddy bear photos. I hope that he will soon be set free and cleared of all charges brought against him,” Mijatovic said. “I further hope that the ‘teddy bear case’ is not the latest attempt to suppress freedom of expression in Belarus using dubious criminal charges.”
The Representative three months ago called on the Belarusian authorities to stop persecuting the media and annul all sentences against independent journalists.
Suryapin, who runs the Belarusian News Photos website, was detained on July 13 as part of an investigation into the air drop of hundreds of teddy bears pinned with press freedom messages over the town of Ivenets, Belarus, in early July.
On August 7, the Press Centre of the State Security Committee published information that a criminal case was launched against Suryapin under Article 371, Part 3 for “organised illegal crossing of the border” and Article 6, Part 16 for “complicity in the crime.” He faces up to seven years in prison, the OSCE said.
Two Belarusian citizens – Suryapin and Basharimov – were detained on suspicion of assisting the crime. By national laws, they may be sentenced from three to seven years in prison with or without property impoundment.
In the morning of July 4, the day after Belarus had celebrated the main national holiday, Independence Day, a sport plane carrying two Swedish citizens illegally entered Belarusian airspace. It freely reached Ivenets and then proceeded to Minsk, airdropping several hundreds of teddy bears with democratic messages pinned to them.