Anton Suryapin, Student Photojournalist, Could Face 7 Years In Belarus Prison For His Teddy Bear Pictures

Student Imprisoned For Snapping Photos Of Teddy Bears

Posting photographs of tiny teddy bears on the internet usually lands a person on Reddit. It doesn't usually land a person in prison.

However, Belarusian State University journalism student and photojournalist, Anton Suryapin, 20, snapped photos in the wrong country.

Studio Total, a Swedish advertising company, flew over Belarus and dropped hundreds of teddy bears packing parachutes and placards promoting free speech, according to the AP. Armed with a camera, Suryapin decided to photograph the floating bears and their speech slogans. And like most 20-year-olds, he then posted his pictures onto the Internet.

Suryapin was arrested and charged as an accessory to the Swedish group's crime of crossing into Belarusian airspace. Since his detainment, Studio Total's members released a statement insisting they gave no one in Belarus prior knowledge to their teddy bear stunt, which took place on July 4.

According to a release, on July 24, Amnesty International urged the Belarusian government to release Suryapin, who could face up to seven years in prison.

Suryapin, according to a Facebook page believed to be his, lives in Minsk, Belarus and is a contributing editor to Belarusian News Photos, where he posted the teddy bear pictures leading to his arrest on July 13.

Surapin's mother told that her husband and her hired a lawyer and expected their son to have been released by now and feels the government is using him as a "scapegoat."

Organizations advocating for peace, members of the press, and particularly, photojournalists, have publicly expressed condemnation and little surprise at the Belarusian government's reaction to the Swedish teddy bear bombing and Suryapin's subsequent arrest.

Uploaded onto Suryapin's assumed Facebook page is a patchwork photograph of nine Belarusian photojournalists each holding one of the teddy bears dropped on Belarus to show their solidarity with Suryapin.

"The charges against Anton Suryapin represent a further nail in the coffin of freedom of expression and association in Belarus," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia, in a release. "Spurious charges are frequently used in the country in an attempt to silence those working to defend human rights."

According to Reuters, two other female journalists were arrested and then fined for carrying out an "unsanctioned protest" after posing for a photograph with one of the teddy bears.

The Swedes' shenanigans outraged Belarus' authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko; he fired two of his generals and told his replacements not to hesitate to use force against airspace intruders in the future, according to the BBC. Belarus - a former Soviet state, has seen Lukashenko's government squash its citizenry's civil liberties, such as free speech. Lukashenko is referred to as "the last dictator" by the West, writes the AP.

Studio Total's members were summoned by the KGB, Belarus' government officials, to discuss the teddy bear airdrop. KGB officials said they wanted Studio Total to cooperate with their investigation so they can determine how to handle the case of Suryapin and another Belarusian man arrested in connection with the teddy bear airdrops. As of today, the AP reported Studio Total rejected the summons to Belarus and instead said they wanted to speak directly with Lukashenko and invited him to Sweden.

Popular in the Community