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Russia: Arrival of Olympic torch in Moscow should shine a light on human rights violations

The arrival of the Olympic torch in Moscow should be used to shine a light on the growing number of human rights violations across Russia, Amnesty International said today.

The torch is in Moscow today before heading to Sochi, the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, on Monday.

Amnesty’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director, John Dalhuisen, said:

”The Russian authorities must not use the Olympic Games being played on TV screens across the world as a smokescreen behind which they can abuse human rights across the country.

“It is important that all those with a stake in the Games are aware of restrictions placed by the Russian authorities on civil society and ordinary citizens, and use their influence to oppose them.

“The Olympic Charter prohibits demonstrations at Olympic sites, but such measures should be exercised only at the sporting sites and venues, and strictly for legitimate purposes. The Olympic Games are not a human rights-free zone.

“Everybody who holds dear human rights, everybody with a stake in the Olympic Games, including those involved in organising and running them, should speak out over violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

Amnesty International will be focussing on several cases in the build-up to the Games. They include:

• Three prisoners of conscience, Vladimir Akimenkov, Artiom Saviolov and Mikhail Kosenko, detained over a year ago solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. In May 2012, they were detained in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow, amid the wave of mass protests that followed much-contested parliamentary and presidential elections in 2011 and 2012. Thirteen people are on trial in Moscow in relation to the Bolotnaya Square protests, and several others are still awaiting trial in this case.

• The 2012 “foreign agents” legislation unleashed a clampdown on NGOs across the country, including the inspection of Amnesty International’s office in Moscow. Court cases brought about by the Prosecutor’s Office against NGOs have resulted in hefty fines against several organisations and their leaders. Many more NGOs across Russia have been issued with official demands to register as “foreign agents” or face similar penalties.

• Homophobic legislation introduced in 2013 restricts the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI) and has already encouraged homophobic violence across Russia. LGBTI events have been disrupted by counter-protesters and banned by the authorities, with participants detained for promoting "propaganda of non-traditional relations among minors”. Anyone breaching the law, including foreigners, faces fines of up to £1,850.

• The blasphemy law introduced after the Pussy Riot punk group staged a brief protest performance in the main Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow in 2012. Two of the performers are currently serving a two-year prison sentence after a politically motivated trial: one of them, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, is on hunger strike after complaining about abusive prison conditions.

• The failure to effectively investigate the murders of journalists and human rights activists. Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in 2006, but the mastermind of her killing has never been identified. No one has been brought to justice for the killings of other notable human rights defenders including Natalia Estemirova, Khadzhimurad Kamalov and Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev.


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