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Sochi Olympics: Dissenting voices silenced as another environmentalist arrested ahead of Games

The re-arrest today of yet another environmentalist in Russia’s Krasnodar region, where the Sochi Winter Olympic Games will open on Friday, is more evidence of efforts to silence dissenting voices and clamp down on freedom of expression ahead of the Games, Amnesty International has warned.

Igor Kharchenko, of the Russian NGO Environmental Watch for North Caucasus, is currently being held by police in Krasnodar, the regional capital, where he had arrived with his colleagues ahead of the Olympic torch relay this week. He was arrested today on the pretext that his car had been “involved in a crime”, shortly after three masked men had smashed in the front and back windows of the vehicle.

Sergei Nikitin, Director of Amnesty’s Moscow Office, said:

“Just days away from the official opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian authorities are using every trick in the book to muzzle freedom of expression and silence dissenting voices.

"This spate of harassment of civil society activists bodes ill for the coming weeks, and raises fears that the Sochi Games will be a human rights-free zone. Even more troubling is what will happen to Russian activists after the Olympic medals are handed out and the international attention fades.

“Silencing civil society does nothing to increase security around the Sochi Games and instead broadcasts to the world how the Russian authorities are failing spectacularly to uphold and protect international human rights standards.”

Kharchenko is one of six activists from Environmental Watch for North Caucasus who were detained last night for several hours in Krasnodar before being released. They felt compelled to scrap plans for a Sochi launch of a new report exposing environmental damage caused by construction work for the Games.

Their detention came the same day that their fellow environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko was arrested in the Krasnodar Region city of Tuapse and sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention for swearing in public.

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