Updated at 11:30,08-12-2016

BAJ collecting signatures in support of Anton Surapin

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has begun collecting signatures for a petition demanding the release of young photographer Anton Surapin, who has been held in custody for a month in connection with July's illegal flight over Belarus and drop of teddy bears over its territory.

The Association asks all its members and sympathizers to visit its website, print out the petition, sign it and mail it to the BAJ office in Minsk.

The Association calls on its foreign partners, international journalist organizations and also Mr. Surapin's colleagues to join a campaign of solidarity with him.

Mr. Surapin's sole fault is that he was the first to publish images of the teddy bears, the petition says.

Authorities are persecuting the young man for his journalist activities, which is a flagrant violation of his constitutional right to obtain, store and disseminate information, the petition says.

On July 4, a single-engine plane piloted by two 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.

Mr. Surapin and another Belarusian young man, Syarhey Basharymaw, were arrested in connection with the incident and charged with complicity in a crime and assistance to illegal entry.

The news site Belarusian News Photos, founded by Mr. Surapin, a 20-year-old fourth-year 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.

Mr. Basharymaw 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 in July that they had not had any contact with Belarusian citizens prior to the stunt and the arrested people were innocent.