Russia: Theres more to worry about than the plastic pitch

This afternoon Ill be hoping to sneak off and catch Englands must-win football match against Russia, controversially played on a plastic pitch. To be honest, if we try to use that as an excuse for failing to beat a side weve already turned over 3-0, we shouldnt be going to the Euros anyway.

But there are some worrying signs that Ill also see pictures of crowd violence four England fans have been hospitalised already. TV has also been showing archive footage of heavy-handed tactics from the Russian police, piling in with batons. And we have documented torture of suspects in police detention in Russia - beatings with fists, plastic bottles full of water, books, truncheons and poles; and suffocation, the use of electric shocks and of organised rape.

Of course, one reason why human rights abuses continue unabated in Russia is that the media is prevented from freely reporting abuses. The dangers for Russian journalists are widely known, and yesterday Reporters Without Borders placed Russia 144th in the world (out of 169) for press freedom.

Their report also highlights the dangers for us bloggers: We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship, Reporters Without Borders said. More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media. This is an issue that Amnesty has also campaigned extensively on, through our irrepressible.info campaign with The Observer see www.amnesty.org.uk/irrepressible for details.

Finally, two comment pieces in The Times really wound me up this morning, with what feels like a totally outdated view of how charities should behave. First theres Daniel Finkelstein scaremongering about what might happen if political organisations get charitable status (and here I declare an interest Amnesty is not at the moment considered to be a charity, essentially for just this reason). Then Nathalie Rothschild heaping scorn on any actor who decides to use their stardom to do some good, rather than just to earn money.

Nathalie, get real this is the world we live in. People listen to George Clooney when he talks about Darfur. Some of those people go on to do something about it. And sometimes governments listen. Its easy to be cynical and to sneer at anyone who tries to use their profile to highlight a cause that they believe in.  But you could hardly say that the likes of Pitt and Clooney are talking about Darfur to gain extra profile when more people probably know their names than that of the region theyve spoken out for.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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