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HRW Publishes Critical Guide To Sochi Olympics

A Russian traffic officer watches construction workers near the main Olympic park in Sochi on January 7.
A Russian traffic officer watches construction workers near the main Olympic park in Sochi on January 7.
The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a guide to the Sochi Winter Olympics and Paralympics for journalists that outlines coverage risks and widespread human rights abuses that it says "contradict the values in the Olympic charter."

In its report, HRW says that while the Russian government "clearly hopes to elevate the country’s image," human rights abuses and controversies have plagued Olympic preparations, including a harsh crackdown on media and civil society.

HRW notes that preparations have been marred by the exploitation, illegal detention, and deportation of migrant construction workers, as well as forced evictions of Sochi residents.

Tanya Lokshina, HRW's Russia program director and senior researcher, detailed some of the abuses in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"Speaking of problems directly related with the preparations for the Olympic Games, they involve such issues as labor migrants," she said. "This includes their arbitrary detention, their expulsion without due compensation for the work they have done at the construction sites of Olympic venues; a number of the region's residents losing their homes without adequate compensation, and persistent pressure -- pressure that has exacerbated over the last month -- on independent journalists and independent activists who dare to criticize the Olympic construction."

The HRW guide also highlights the "storm of criticism" regarding Russia's law against gay "propaganda." It says this legislation discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and also clashes with the ideals in the Olympic charter.
HRW's Tanya Lokshina
HRW's Tanya Lokshina

"The principle of nondiscrimination is very clearly pronounced in the Olympic charter as a founding principle of the Olympic Games," said Lokshina. "Consequently, when a country hosting the Olympics adopts a discriminating piece of legislation against LGBT people not long before the games, this situation is glaringly, grossly outrageous."

Lokshina also highlighted one issue on which the Sochi Olympics can be viewed as having made major progress compared to the last time the Olympics were held in Russia -- the summer games in Moscow in 1980.

She notes that the Soviet government refused then to hold the Paralympic Games, saying that there "were no invalids in the Soviet Union."

In Sochi, the Winter Paralympics will be held as soon as the Olympics are finished.

Lokshina also urged the international community not to lose sight of important rights issues in Russia after the Sochi games end.

"What happens if -- God forbid -- everyone forgets about Russia after the Olympics and all the eyes that are now focused on Russia as the host country of the Olympic Games will be turned the other way?" she asked. "We are seriously worried that, should such a situation occur, the offensive against civil society, freedom of opinion, and independent activists will be strongly advanced. The screws might be tightened exceptionally severely. The only way to prevent that from happening is to continue to keep our attention on Russia once the Olympic Games are over."

The first competitions of the Sochi Olympic Games begin on February 6 and continue for two weeks.

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