A state department spokesman said last week the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about tensions between Sweden and Belarus over a free-speech teddy bear drop last month, and “stands with Sweden” in working for human rights in the former Soviet Republic.
Meanwhile, the European Union member states Friday supported the statement issued earlier by EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton criticizing Belarus’ handling of the July 4 incident, including the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador and all other Swedish diplomats from the country.
The ambassadors from Belarus to the EU will be summoned to the EU Foreign Ministry to formally receive the EU’s position, according to a Swedish government website.
“The United States stands with Sweden and our European partners in supporting the aspirations of the people of Belarus for a modern, democratic and prosperous future, said US State Department Patrick Ventrell, according to an article in The Local.
The dispute began on July 4, when a plane piloted by Swedes flew into Belarus and dropped hundreds of teddy bears wearing free-speech slogans in the area outside the capital city of Minsk. The prank was carried out by the Swedish public relations firm Studio Total, which videotaped the episode and took responsibility for it.
Belarus authorities arrested and still hold a student-journalist for posting photos of the teddy bears on his website, and another man, a landlord who had rented an apartment to a group of Swedes who were in Minsk to witness the event. The individuals involved in the teddy bear drop say neither man had any part in the incident.
The Belarus KGB has summoned three Swedes who took part in the stunt to appear as witnesses. Tomas Mazetti, one of the cofounders of Studio Total who received a summons, said they must appear in 10 days or be sentenced to four years labor.
Mazetti said they were willing to go, but only if the authorities guarantee that they will not be indicted.
The Belarus government is also asking the Lithuanian government to investigate how the Swedish plane was able to land and take off from a Lithuanian airport near Belarus to carry out the drop.