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Ahead Of World Cup, Rights Watchdog Points To Repression, Discrimination In Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), FIFA President Gianni Infantino (left), and Krasnodar Governor Veniamin Kondratyev visit Fisht Stadium, which will host World Cup matches, in Sochi on May 3.

The upcoming football World Cup organized by Russia will take place amid "the worst human rights crisis in Russia since the Soviet era," Human Rights Watch said on May 15.

In a report published May 15 and titled Russia: FIFA World Cup 2018 -- Human Rights Guide For Reporters, the New York-based rights watchdog says FIFA should use its influence and bring up with the Russian authorities issues such as labor rights abuses, restrictions on basic freedoms, and the current crackdown on human rights activists.

The report says the monthlong tournament will take place against a a backdrop of "a harsh and deteriorating environment for human rights."

The report lists questions raised by Russia’s preparations for and hosting of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and touches upon broader human rights issues in Russia.

It lists the routine use of restrictive legislation to curtail freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, and mentions the crackdown on dissent through the enforcement of repressive legislation and stronger online censorship.

The paper describes the new human rights policies adopted by FIFA, world soccer's governing body, and their role in tackling more effectively serious human rights violations in Russia.

“Global sporting events such as the World Cup draw massive international media attention,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope this guide helps reporters look beyond the football pitch to broader issues of concern in Russia.”

The document criticizes Russia for providing support to the Syrian government despite evidence that its forces have been committing crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Hajo Seppelt
Hajo Seppelt

It also notes that Hajo Seppelt, a veteran German sports reporter, was banned from attending the World Cup in Russia after he reported extensively about the sports doping scandal in Russia.

It also mentions labor abuses against workers on World Cup stadium construction sites. Those abuses included unsafe working conditions, delayed salaries, and even deaths.

The report says that Grozny, the capital of Russia's Chechnya region, has been confirmed by FIFA as the host of the Egyptian team, despite being Russia's most repressive region.

It adds that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov "threatened and smeared human rights defenders, publicly referring to them as traitors and snitches."

The report also mentions that Oyub Titiev, the Chechnya head of Russia's rights group Memorial, "remains in custody there on bogus marijuana possession charges."

HRW recommends that FIFA take firm steps to address and mitigate concerns raised in the document.

"FIFA should ask Russia to repeal its 'gay propaganda' law, which violates FIFA’s requirements on nondiscrimination.

FIFA should also urge Russia to end restrictions on demonstrations in World Cup cities before, during, and after the tournament," HRW said in its report.

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