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Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Expelled For Commitment to Human Rights
Freedom House finds unacceptable the expulsion of the Swedish Ambassador to Belarus on August 3. Ambassador Stefan Ericsson may have been expelled in what many regard as Lukashenka’s retaliation for the teddy bear drop incident that took place on July 4. On that day a private airplane piloted by two Swedish citizens crossed the Lithuania-Belarus border unnoticed by radars and flew over Ivents and the suburbs of Minks dropping 879 plush teddy bears carrying messages in support of freedom of speech.
Belarusian student Anton Suryapin was arrested after photographing and posting images online of the “teddy bear drop.” He was declared a prisoner of conscience and could face a seven-year jail sentence.
In response to international criticism, Belarusian officials claimed that the move was not an expulsion but rather a denial to prolong the ambassador’s accreditation. Unsatisfied by the explanation, in a return move Sweden within hours ousted Belarusian ambassador and two embassy officials from Stockholm.
For many years during his posting in Minsk, Ambassador Ericsson has demonstrated a strong commitment to the support of human rights, democracy, and people of Belarus. The refusal to extend the Ambassador's accreditation by the Foreign Ministry of Belarus is an act that speaks louder than any words – the government of Belarus is determined to further isolate its people from the international community and deny freedom and human rights in the country. Sweden has long been open about its desire to see respect for democracy and human rights in Belarus and has been an avid supporter of human rights defenders and civil society organizations there.