Belarus - Australian journalist held and equipment confiscated at Minsk airport

Reporters Without Borders strongly deplores the arrest of the Australian journalist Amos Roberts today at Minsk airport as he was about to leave the country after a week’s reporting assignment. The organization condemns the confiscation of his equipment (computer, video camera, phone, USB sticks) and calls on the Belarusian authorities to return it to him so that he can continue his work.

Roberts, a reporter with Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service, was detained about 2 p.m. today. As far as is known, no reason was given for the arrest.

Roberts went to the country to investigate a highly sensitive subject: the mass airdrop of teddy bears into Belarus as part of a freedom of information campaign organized by a Swedish public relations firm during the summer. The stunt caused a major diplomatic row between Belarus and the European Union.

The editor of a website that was the first to post photographic proof of the operation was arrested on 18 July and held in custody for a month by the KGB. He is still under house arrest.

On 4 July, two members of the Swedish public relations agency Studio Total flew a small plane into Belarusian air space and dropped teddy bears by parachute, each carrying a miniature sign saying: “We support the Belarusian struggle for free speech.”