Website editor arrested for posting photos of free speech stunt
(RSF/IFEX) - 18 July 2012 - Reporters Without Borders demands the immediate release of Anton Surapin, the head of a news website who was arrested during a raid on his home on 13 July by members of the State Security Committee (KGB) investigating his role in a publicity stunt by a Swedish advertising agency designed to promote free expression.
A decision on his detention was to have been issued yesterday but he has still not been released. Under Belarusian law, suspects can be held for up to 10 days in police custody without being formally charged.
Belarusian Association of Journalists vice-president Andrew Bastunets told Reporters Without Borders that Surapin is accused of helping foreigners to cross the border illegally – a charge that carries a sentence of three to five years in prison.
The stunt by the Swedish advertising agency Studio Total must not be used by the Belarusian authorities as a pretext for arresting journalists, bloggers or members of the public who simply relayed information about it, Reporters Without Borders said.
In a show of solidarity with free speech defenders in Belarus, two Studio Total members flew a light aircraft into Belarusian airspace on 4 July and dropped hundreds of teddy-bears, each bearing a miniature placard with the message: “We support the Belarusian struggle for free speech.”
Surapin, a Journalism Institute student and editor of the bnp.by news website, was the first to post photos of the stunt online. He said he received the photos in a 5 July email from an unidentified person who wrote: “At 8 a.m. I went outside and saw the plane flying. He was flying very low, and I even saw the person flying it. I waved to him, and he threw me three bears with flags on parachutes!”
Studio Total member Tomas Mazetti, one of the plane's two pilots, told the Swedish English-language newspaper The Local he was worried by Surapin's arrest. Reached by Reporters Without Borders, Mazetti said: “We don't know Anton Surapin. We have no connection with him whatsoever. We had no contact at all in Belarus to help us organize this. We didn't need to.”
Although Studio Total has posted videos online proving that it did what it claims, the Belarusian defence ministry has denied that any aircraft entered Belarusian airspace illegally on 4 July. The ministry claims that the videos were clearly doctored or subjected to some other form of manipulation of “a clearly provocative nature.”
President Lukashenko has been cracking down harder on dissent in recent months as Belarus – which is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet” – sinks further into political isolation and economic stagnation. In particular, the regime has lashed out at those who try to use the Internet to circulate information, wage campaigns or carry out a “revolution via the social media.”
MORE INFORMATION: IPI calls for release of Belarusian photojournalist (IPI, 16 August 2012)