Two Belarusians detained on charges of “teddy bear drop” (updated)

Journalist Anton Surapin and real-estate agent Siarhei Basharymau have been arrested and are still kept in custody for their alleged involvement in the case of the “teddy bear drop”. At least two more people were interrogated by KGB officers. Amnesty International calls for the release of Surapin. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has not recognized the fact of violation of Belarusian border by the Swedish aircraft which dropped teddy bears on the territory of the country.

On 23 July the 10-day detention term for BSU journalism student Anton Surapin has expired, however he was not released. The accusation has not been brought against him either. He was left in prison for further consideration of the case. This is the only information that Anton Surapin’s lawyer could share after a visit to the KGB.

The detained student sent greetings to all who have been supporting him. Anton Surapin is informed about the publicity that his arrest has attracted.

Journalism student Anton Surapin, who was the first to post online the photos of teddy bears which were dropped by the Swedes during their flight over Ivyanets and Minsk on 4 July, was detained by KGB on 13 July, and since then has been inspected for assistance in illegal crossing of the state border of Belarus. The maximum penalty under this charge is 7 years of imprisonment. The KGB has not officially commented on the detention of the journalist.

A 16-year old Katsya Skurat from Ivyanets was interrogated by KGB officers in the presence of her parents. The girl was crying when answering questions of the KGB agents. According to one of the versions, Katsya Skurat photographed teddy bears that she found in Ivyanets after the flight of the Swedish aircraft, and e-mailed the pictures to Anton Surapin who posted them on his website. Katsya’s page in the social network “Vkontakte” that contained photos of teddy bears is deleted at the moment.

Another person detained – real estate agent
Another person involved in the case, real estate agent from Minsk Siarhei Basharymau, was detained on 6 July, and has not been released from KGB detention facility since. Basharymau has already been charged.

“Siarhei is charged under the same article under which Anton Surapin is suspected – assisting a group of persons in illegal crossing the state border. Siarhei’s mother Liudmila learned about it from a lawyer who visited the detainee in KGB prison”, said Iryna Lahoika, Basharymau’s girlfriend.

Iryna Lahoika has also faced investigators from the KGB: she was summoned to an interrogation, and spent a night in the KGB detention facility.

“I was arrested late on 6 July. Three KGB officers came to my house and said that I should come with them to “clarify the circumstances”. As far as I know, Siarhei was detained at the same time. I was surprised, but didn’t have much fear, because if you know you haven’t done anything illegal you are not afraid. The interrogation by the KGB lasted until 12 AM, and then I was taken to a prison cell. It was so narrow. I was shocked. In the morning the interrogation continued, and then they let me read my testimony and released me. I have no right to tell you the details of the interrogation”.

According to Iryna Lahoika, she did not know anything about teddy bear drop before the arrest, that’s why some of the investigator’s questions seemed very strange to her at first.

Iryna says that the investigators did not mention that her boyfriend was also arrested, but on hearing certain questions during the interrogation she guessed that he was. It was Siarhei’s mother, whom Iryna met after her release, who told her about his arrest.

The two women have sent two parcels for Siarhei – with food, clothing, paper and envelopes. They have already received three letters from him.

“He writes that he keeps holding on, that everything is fine, that he hasn’t done anything wrong and will fight for himself. He says that the conditions [in prison] are acceptable”, Iryna says.

According to one of the versions, Siarhei Basharymau was the real estate agent who leased the apartment in Minsk to a group of Swedes who assisted their friends in flight over Belarus. Per Cromwell, one of the organisers of this flight, said that he had met Siarhei Basharymau in May but had not seen him in July, and just sent him an sms saying they didn’t need the apartment.

Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of Surapin
The human rights organisation Amnesty International calls upon the Belarusian authorities to immediately release the 20-year-old photographer Anton Surapin and drop all charges against him.

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

Meanwhile, Belarusian authorities still keep silence about the “teddy bear drop” case.

On 23 July the officer of Centre on Information and Public Relations of KGB Artur Strekh said that the case of Anton Surapin, Siarhei Basharymau and the whole teddy bear case is still not commented by the KGB.

The Belarusian Ministry of Defence has still not recognized the illegal flight of a Swedish aircraft over Belarus, despite the fact that the organisers have posted online a 1.5 hour-long video of the flight.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee requested the information from the Prosecutor General’s Office on whether a criminal case on negligent performance has been initiated against the Belarusian militaries of air defence units who on the morning 4 July missed the flight of a Swedish airplane over the border with Lithuania and its return to Lithuania in 1.5 hours. Human rights defenders say that the information they requested will allow them to assess the detention of journalist Anton Surapin and the real estate agent Siarhei Basharymau.

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