A 20-year-old journalism student is facing up to 7 years in prison in Belarus. His crime was photographing teddy bears.
More than 800 teddy bears were dropped into the country from a plane in a stunt by a Swedish advertising company, Studio Total. The bears carried placards in support of free speech, a right that has been compromised during the oppressive presidency of Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko, who said recently that it was “better to be a dictator than gay,” won reelection in 2010, after two other presidential candidates were seriously beaten by police. European Union ambassadors boycotted his inauguration in January 2011.
The 20-year-old photographer, Anton Suryapin, had no affiliation with Studio Total. He simply posted photos of the stuffed animals. He was then charged with illegally assisting an organized group cross the border of Belarus. Amnesty International has called for his release. The police also arrested Syarhei Basharimau, a real estate agent who reportedly rented an apartment to the two pilots who dropped the bears. Upon hearing of the arrests, founder of Studio Total mocked president Alexander Lukashenko as an “armed clown.”