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Rights defenders seeking information on whether military officers are under investigation over teddy bear stunt
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee has requested the Prosecutor General’s Office to inform the public whether a criminal case has been opened against any air defense officers over a stunt carried out by Swedish nationals earlier this month.
On July 4, a single-engine plane piloted by representatives of Sweden’s public relations agency Studio Total invaded Belarus' airspace and dropped hundreds of teddy bears with "pro-free speech" signs on the town of Ivyanets and Minsk before flying back to Lithuania unhindered.
Experts said that the stunt exposed flaws in Belarus’ air defenses.
In its petition to the prosecutor’s office, the human rights group explains that it needs to know whether any air defense officers are under investigation over the incident to “make a correct and objective assessment” of the arrest of young photographer Anton Surapin.
The news site Belarusian News Photos, founded by Mr. Surapin, a 20-year-old student at Belarusian State University’s Journalism Institute, ran images of the teddy bears with miniature placards lying on the grass hours after the drop. In his comments, Mr. Surapin said that he had received them from an anonymous author living outside Minsk.
The Committee for State Security (KGB) arrested the young man on July 13. He is facing a charge of assisting illegal entry.
News websites reported earlier this week that two more people were in custody over the incident. One of them is Katsyaryna Skurat, 16, who was the first person to take pictures of the teddy bears. She is believed to have sent the images to Mr. Surapin. The other is Syarhey Basharymaw, the man who is believed to have leased out an apartment to representatives of Studio Total who arrived in Belarus to take pictures of the drop and provide help to the pilots in case of emergency.
Studio Total representatives said that they had not had any contact with Belarusian citizens prior to the stunt and the arrested people were innocent.
The Belarusian defense ministry initially denied that any aircraft had invaded the country’s airspace on that day and described videos of the alleged flight released by Studio Total as a crude fake of “a clearly provocative nature.”
On July 16, Alyaksandr Lukashenka bestowed For Honorable Service medals on a group of air defense officers. // BelaPAN