Photographer facing criminal charge over teddy bear stunt

2012 2012-07-17T14:59:54+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en

The Committee for State Security (KGB) has extended to 10 days the detention of young photographer Anton Surapin, who is formally suspected of helping foreigners illegally enter Belarus.

If charged and found guilty, Mr. Surapin may get up to seven years in prison, Andrey Bastunets, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told BelaPAN.

Mr. Surapin, a 20-year-old student at Belarusian State University's Journalism Institute, was detained on July 13 for 72 hours over pictures of “pro-free speech” teddy bears that were allegedly dropped on Belarus from a plane piloted by representatives of Swedish public relations firm Studio Total on July 4.

The KGB has instituted criminal proceedings in connection with the incident.

According to Mr. Bastunets, Mr. Surapin was interrogated for the first time only on July 16. The man's parents have already hired a lawyer for the son.

The news site Belarusian News Photos, founded by Mr. Surapin, ran the photos of the teddy bears with miniature placards lying on the grass hours after the alleged drop. In his comments, Mr. Surapin said that he had received them from an anonymous author living outside Minsk

On July 4, Studio Total, known for high-profile and sometimes deceptive publicity stunts, claimed that it had dropped hundreds of teddy bears holding miniature signs “We support the Belarusian struggle for free speech” on Belarus in a show of support for the country's pro-democracy movement.

It released videos, which it said prove that the stunt took place.

The Belarusian defense ministry initially denied that any aircraft had invaded the country's airspace on that day and described the videos as a crude fake of “a clearly provocative nature.”