29 February 2012

Man jailed for copycat "toy protest"

A toy story: A toy protester in Russia holds a banner that reads
A toy story: A toy protester in Russia holds a banner that reads "I'm for clean elections"

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The toy protest that landed organiser Pavel Vinogradov in jail
The toy protest that landed organiser Pavel Vinogradov in jail
via Index
A man in Belarus was sentenced to 10 days in prison in February for staging a toy protest, echoing recent rallies using teddy bears to challenge Vladimir Putin in neighbouring Russia, reports Index on Censorship.

Opposition activist and former political prisoner Pavel Vinogradov put soft toys on a curb with tiny banners in front of government headquarters in Minsk on 10 February to protest against police brutality in Belarus, often referred to as "Europe's last dictatorship." Vinogradov was arrested by the police, who claimed he had organised an "unauthorised protest."

According to news reports, teddy bears and toy puppies and hares were carrying banners that read, "Police have ripped my eye out", "Where is media freedom?" and "Alejandro, let the people go", a reference to Belarus's president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Protests involving teddy bears and Lego figures carrying protest banners were first reported in the Siberian city of Barnaul in Russia, where they are now staged regularly against Putin.

Activists first set up the display in January after authorities repeatedly rejected their request to hold a sanctioned demonstration of the kind held in Moscow to protest disputed parliamentary elections results and Putin's expected return to the presidency next month.

Police have tried to pressure them into shutting down the toy protests, calling them "unsanctioned public events." The activists have countered with plans to make future protests a series of single pickets, which, according to Russian law, do not have to be sanctioned.

The Belarusian toy case comes after Lukashenko banned clapping in public last year to prevent silent protests against his hardline rule and his government's handling of the country's economic crisis.

Just last month, independent journalist Aleksandr Borozenko got 11 days in jail for reporting on a one-person vigil against the jailing of opposition activists in Belarus, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Lukashenko, who has run the former Soviet republic of Belarus since 1994, has become the target of sanctions by the U.S. and the EU for cracking down on public protest after his controversial re-election in December 2010.

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