Human rights in Russia Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics: Not just games

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Human rights in Russia

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics: Not just games

Manual for journalists

Amnesty International Norway, Bellona, Caucasian Knot, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Norwegian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organisation

Photo front cover: Copyright Tomasz Kizny

Manual for journalists
This manual for journalists, which will cover the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi in 2014, has been produced in cooperation between the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Amnesty International Norway, Bellona, the Norwegian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organisation (LLH) and the news portal Caucasian Knot.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has had principal responsibility for the production of the manual and would like to thank the Fritt Ord Foundation for supporting this and for other work linked to the winter games in Sochi.
The manual covers the political, human rights and environmental context of the winter games, which are taking place in a city on the Black Sea which has around 350,000 inhabitants. The manual is part of a major partnership to draw attention to the problematic aspects of the winter games in Sochi and developments in Russia regarding human rights and respect for human dignity, which is a central value of the Olympic Movement.
The organisations are not calling for a boycott of the winter games, but wish to contribute to the Norwegian and international media being aware of conditions linked to the preparation and organisation of the games by the Russian authorities which justify criticism. The manual also raises questions about the IOC's role in following up on respect for the Olympic values.
The Olympic Movement has some fundamental principles, including that sport must contribute to "the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity". Banning discrimination is one of its core values.
Assessing how various Olympic Games contribute to promoting these values is therefore vital.
The information presented has been taken from a range of sources, including conversations and interviews held while visiting Sochi and the Krasnodar region under the auspices of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Amnesty International Norway,, is the Norwegian branch of the world's largest human rights organisation. Amnesty International fights for freedom of expression and against discrimination and abuse. The organisation is independent of all governments, economic players, political beliefs and religious faiths.
Bellona,, is an independent idealist foundation which works to solve the world's climate challenges partly by identifying and implementing sustainable climate solutions. Bellona works for increased environmental understanding and protection of nature, the environment and health. Bellona is involved in the most important national and international environmental issues in the world today.
Caucasian Knot,, is a Russian and English-language 24/7 internet agency covering the entire Caucasus region, i.e. areas in southern Russia (north Caucasia) and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Caucasian Knot has an extensive network of correspondents and represents a unique source of independent information about important developments and incidents in the region.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC),, is a non-governmental organisation which promotes full respect for internationally-recognised human rights in law and in practice. The NHC reports on breaches of human rights, provides education and supports and cooperates with local organisations regarding such activities. The NHC's geographical focus is North America, Europe and Central Asia. The NHC's headquarters are in Oslo and it has employees and partners in Eastern and Central Europe, the western Balkans and Central Asia.
The Norwegian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organisation (LLH),, is a Norwegian organisation which works for equality and against all forms of discrimination against lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBTs) in Norway and the rest of the world. LLH works for improved protection against discrimination for all minorities and for the police following up on hate crime in a suitable manner. The organisation provides information about LGBTs to the authorities and politicians, family-protection offices and the health service. LLH works with and supports LGBT activists in Russia.
Interview with Gregory Shvedov, editor of Caucasian Knot 6

The IOC and the Sochi Winter Games 10

Sochi and the Krasnodar region 13

The risk of terrorism 15

Treatment of minorities and immigrants 21

LGBTs without protection 22

Vulnerable environment under pressure 26

Corruption 30

Workers' rights infringed 33

Restrictions of liberty 35

Imprisonment of political opponents and activists 38

The IOC's role 41

Useful contacts 43

Biographies of activists currently under investigation 51

The Price of the Games: who will win, who will be victim?

– Interview with Gregory Shvedov, Editor, Caucasian Knot


The 2014 Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Games are widely seen by observers as a personal project for President Putin, who is very fond of the Sochi area and its recreational qualities. The games have been portrayed by the Russian authorities as an important part of efforts to modernise Russia in terms of technological innovations, venues being made easily accessible for the disabled and inspiring and creating future training facilities for talented athletes. They also have an overall goal of developing the Sochi area in line with cost efficiency and sustainability criteria.


Taking a step back in assessing preparations for the games, how are they being portrayed in the Russian mainstream media?

"Overall there is a positive attitude to the games. The media report on how the games contribute to a "positive image" of Russia, mobilising Russians and attracting positive international attention. It is no secret that Russia has an image problem in the West. There are currently no real attempts to democratise the country or improve human rights. The games are seen as a way to improve the image of the country, to re-brand Russia. The plan is to portray a great power which can build spectacular sports venues and organise tournaments in a way which no-one can copy. The mainstream media are undertaking the task of creating such an image."

Does this mean that the Russian media are under orders to portray the games in a positive light?

"Well, there is no censorship in the majority of the Russian media, you know. However, the major media outlets know how to present news or which news to avoid in order not to offend officials. There is no nationwide system with one responsible agency which pre-approves journalism, as was the case during Soviet times. But there is a widespread practice of self-censorship. There is also the issue of media financing, which in practice leads to a cautious approach by owners, who influence the media a lot in Russia. The majority of media outlets are funded by the government or local administrations, although there are also a number of private owners. Editors may be appointed due to their loyalty to the owner rather than because of their skills. There is also the issue of restrictive laws that make journalists cautious of criticising officials. There are however some private media that cover sensitive issues in an independent way."


Do the media in North Caucasus have any distinctive characteristics?

"The situation is not the same in the various regions. In general, however, local administrations do not welcome a professional approach by media outlets. On the contrary, they expect the media to contribute to portraying "a positive image". In Chechnya there is complete control of the media by the Kadyrov administration, which leads to Soviet-style propaganda, often in a new, modern style. In Dagestan there are a few independent media outlets owned and run by businesses which report critically. In five other regions of North Caucasus there are newspapers which may publish critical material from time to time, but they do not have a big readership and there are no daily editions. Also, there are no independent radio or TV broadcasters in the area. The online media in the regions are mostly linked to specific local stakeholders’ interests. In general, access to the internet is free, except in Chechnya, and this helps regional readers to use social media, which are very popular."


How would you describe the role of the news portal Caucasian Knot?

"Caucasian Knot fills the void where there is a lack of independent and professional reporting. The regional media sometimes publish material critical of regional developments, but they do not always adhere to professional standards. The owners of specific newspapers or electronic media are often involved in influencing critical reporting in order to pursue their own interests. Caucasian Knot is totally independent of local government and business interests and our readers show how much they admire this approach. The stories we publish are read about three million times a month. Apart from reporting, Caucasian Knot also provides a much needed forum for the local audience, making it possible for the population of the regions to share facts and opinions. Caucasian Knot receives thousands of comments and text messages. Many of these feature important facts about human rights violations and other items of interest."

How do officials respond to criticism of the preparations for the Sochi Games?

"I would say that their main response is to ignore it, if possible. Regarding criticism of the environmental damage caused by the companies building facilities for the Olympic Games, court decisions in cases against activists clearly show that the courts have been ordered to punish them by officials. Officials do not want to allow activists to operate or to benefit from criticism in order to improve the way things are done. We should, however, acknowledge that there are examples of the opposite happening. For instance, officials do recognise that the ecosystem of the Mzimta River has been destroyed. There is currently a debate about how to restore life to the river.

"Caucasian Knot writes a lot about a large number of local inhabitants who suffer permanently due to social injustice and poor living conditions. There is often no hot water or electricity and heating does not work. This criticism does not usually attract any response from officials, but we are proud of each case (even though they are few in number) when people get help due to our coverage. Often help comes not from regional officials but from national institutions."


You have been active as a journalist and editor in the North Caucasus region for many years. What is your advice to foreign journalists coming to Sochi?

"My main advice is to prepare thoroughly in terms of reading about the region, consulting reports by human rights organisations, video reports, news, etc. Do not think that you can start from zero, but prepare yourself about issues beyond the sport. One important question is about the true price of the games. We already know that they are extremely expensive in terms of money, but they have also incurred a lot of problems for the local population and environment. When foreign journalists arrive they may be very impressed by what they see. The Olympic venues and the infrastructure are indeed impressive. But they should be prepared to look beyond that. They also have to be very careful about protecting their sources when conducting journalistic work in Sochi. This will of course be difficult as security personnel will be present everywhere. It also means that respondents might choose to answer very carefully so as not to compromise themselves. For instance, it might be very difficult to dig into issues such as corruption and the excessive use of funds related to construction works. I suspect few locals would talk about it much or be able to provide evidence."


How do you assess the possibility of arranging protests and demonstrations close to the venues?

"It will be very difficult to protest or demonstrate near venues. Even though this is now permitted in principle it can only take place with the approval of the local authorities, local law enforcement agencies and the Federal Security Service (the FSB, which was known as the KGB in Soviet times). In reality getting permission from all three structures will be complicated. Putin’s permission to protest looks good on paper, but I suspect that in reality we’ll not see much protest near venues. The authorities may propose somewhere far away from the venues, where fewer visitors will be able to see the activists."


Do you see the games having any positive effects?

"Yes, the Sochi Games may be helpful in some respects. There is, however, now talk of venues ending up as casinos after the games. That would certainly not be a good outcome. One central question is whether the Olympic buildings and infrastructure will benefit the local population and ordinary people or whether Sochi will remain a place for rich and powerful people. That remains to be seen. Sochi may continue to be a place which the Russian state invests in, providing talented athletes from all over Russia with venues for training. Giving young athletes from North Caucasus a special opportunity to use this infrastructure would also be sensible national policy. In terms of tourism I suspect that Turkey and Egypt may remain less expensive than Sochi for Russians. But there is certainly potential in Sochi for combining seaside tourism with more adventurous activities in the nearby mountains."


Several well-known people, including Khodorkovsky, have recently been granted amnesties. How do you interpret these amnesties?

"They have mainly been granted in order to improve the image of Russia, to portray it as a more free country and to dismiss sensitive issues ahead of the games. But the amnesties do not represent a paradigm shift. For instance, you can see that activists critical of the preparations for the Sochi Games still have a hard time."
"We need to think about local activists after the games. How many of them will pay a high price for the games – will have to go to prison – after the international community stops monitoring developments in Sochi? We are already witnessing such an approach in neighbouring Azerbaijan, where key activists have been arrested after elections rather than during them. Together we need to make efforts to help those who live in the region so that they do not end up being victims of the games.
"The next G8 meeting will be held in Sochi. World leaders need to be quite clear in demanding that no-one should suffer because of peaceful activism while they are experiencing warm Russian hospitality in beautiful palaces."

The IOC and the Sochi Winter Games
The Modern Olympic Games were founded by Pierre de Coubertin in 1864. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was established in 1894, while the first modern summer games were held in Athens in 1896. Winter games were first held in Chamonix, France, in 1924.
The IOC plays the main role in the Olympic Movement along with the national Olympic Committees and the international sports federations. The Olympic Charter is binding on all these players and also on the organising committees for the various Olympic Games.
Contrary to popular belief Olympism is not just about organising spectacular sports events. According to the charter it is a philosophy of life which seeks to create a lifestyle "based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles". It also states that practising sport is a human right and that no-one should be discriminated against in practising sport. The Olympic Movement must "contribute to building a peaceful and better world".
Sochi was chosen to organise the 2014 winter games by the IOC on 2 July 2007. According to the IOC seven cities had applied to hold the 2014 winter games: Sochi (Russia), Salzburg (Austria), Jaca (Spain), Almaty (Kazakhstan), PyeongChang (South Korea), Sofia (Bulgaria) and Borjomi (Georgia).1
Sochi competed with Salzburg and Pyeongchang in the final phase. In the final vote Sochi was preferred by 51 IOC members, while PyeongChang was supported by 47.

The winter games in Sochi are the 22nd Winter Olympics and will be followed by the 11th Paralympic Winter Games, which are taking place at the same venues from 7-16 March.

By entering into an agreement with the IOC to organise the Olympic Games in 2014 the Russian Organising Committee and the responsible Russian authorities committed themselves to respecting the Olympic aims and values. For its part, the IOC is committed to ensuring that these are followed up in practice.

High aims
The Olympic Games in Sochi will be the most compact winter games in the history of the Olympic Movement. It will be possible to move from one arena to another within minutes. All arenas have been adapted to the requirements for disabled access.
Eleven new facilities have been built for the games, located in two complexes – one on the coast a little south of Sochi city and one in the mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana. The two complexes are 48 km apart and a new railway and motorway have been built between them so that the travel time is planned to be just 30 minutes. The ice arenas, which are in the coastal complex, are within walking distance of each other.
The Sochi winter games have become the most expensive ever. The final bill will be more than 50 billion dollars.2

The Olympic rings at the airport in Sochi.
The Russian Organising Committee has stated the aims of the games on three levels under the heading "The Russian Diamond".3
Firstly, the games will be innovative in terms of ensuring a high level of service for the participants, making the arenas physically accessible, ensuring environmental sustainability and making the Olympics accessible for everyone.
Secondly, the games will celebrate the so-called Spirit of Russia. This involves inspiring the Russian population by showing what Russian athletes can achieve, demonstrating Russian hospitality and showing magnificent scenery and contributing to integrating Russia into the global community.
Thirdly, the games will deliver "sustainable positive change, which inspires the world". The games will set new standards for the rest of Russia, market Sochi as a tourist destination, stimulate the development of sport and a healthy lifestyle and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in Russia.

The Winter Olympics in Sochi are the first to be organised by the Russian Federation, which was declared an independent state in 1991 and took over the Soviet Union's permanent seat on the UN Security Council. During Soviet times the summer games were held in Moscow in 1980, but these were boycotted by a large number of countries because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Norway did not participate.
The winter games in Sochi have also been caught in a controversial light, although no country has indicated that it is considering boycotting them. Human rights and environmental issues are some of the most important subjects in the critical discussions about the games. These include poor treatment of construction workers who have been brought in, restrictive legislation and practices regarding homosexual and lesbian rights, an extensive decline in respect for civil and political rights in Russia in general and worries about the environmental consequences of the extensive building of infrastructure and facilities in association with the games.
Sochi and the Krasnodar region
Sochi lies in the Krasnodar region (Krasnodarsky krai in Russian), which is in south-west Russia and is part of the southern federal district. The region borders Rostov in the north-west, Stavropol in the east and the conflict-stricken Georgian republic of Abkhazia in the south. In the west Krasnodar is separated from Ukraine by the Strait of Kerch.
Its population is approx. 5.3 million. Russians make up the majority (approx. 88%), but Armenians, Ukrainians, Greeks and many other ethnic groups live in the region.
Sochi's climate is subtropical, with an average daytime temperature of 10 degrees at the coast in January and February. There is unique fauna and flora in some of the areas affected by building development for the Olympics and parts of the area are protected national parks.
The Krasnodar region is bordering North Caucasus, an area affected by conflicts between the various ethnic groups in the region and the Russian authorities since the 19th century.
The republic of Adygea is an enclave within the Krasnodar region. The Adyghe and other so-called Circassian people supported the Turks against Russia in the Crimean War (1853-1856). Russia's conquest of the northern Caucasus was completed in 1864, and this resulted in a large number of Circassians and other Muslims being forced out. Some were forcibly deported to the Ottoman Empire, while many moved to other parts of Russia or to other countries.
During World War II the Circassians and many other Muslim ethnic groups in North Caucasus were deported to Central Asia. Those who survived were first invited to return in the late 1950s.
The Circassians have sought to exploit the winter games in Sochi to highlight the conflicts and extensive persecution which have taken place. It has been emphasised that Sochi was once the capital of Circassia before Greek immigrants came to the area. But when Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed The Olympic Committee in 2007 to convince it that Sochi should organise the games he only mentioned the Greeks, it is noted.4
Russians now make up around 68% of the population of Adygea, while the Adyghe make up 22%. Although Circassians live in other parts of North Caucasus and Russia, the great majority live abroad.
There have also been extensive conflicts regarding the status of Abkhazia. Only Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru have recognised the republic as an independent state. Two other unrecognised republics, South Ossetia and Transnistria, have also recognised Abkhazia.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia are part of Georgia in legal terms, even though the authorities in Tbilisi have no control over them. Transnistria is a similar breakaway republic from Moldova. These republics represent part of the extensive problem of so-called "frozen conflicts" in former Soviet territory. In the summer of 2008 there was a brief war between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, but the relationship between Russia and Georgia is somewhat better today.

The risk of terrorism
The Krasnodar region lies at the edge of North Caucasus, a region affected by lengthy conflicts. North Caucasus consists of Stavropol Krai and the autonomous republics of Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan.
The terrorist attacks in Volgograd on 29 and 30 December 2013 came as a shock to many people in Russia. Thirty-four people were killed at the city's train station and on a trolleybus.5 A terrorist attack in Volgograd in October 2013 also claimed seven lives. Volgograd lies about 1000 kilometres north east of Sochi as the crow flies.
The population of Russia has been told by state-controlled media that North Caucasus is under control. In reality there has been fighting between Islamist groups and the authorities for a long time. Even though the war in Chechnya ended at the beginning of the 21st century, the conflicts there and in the neighbouring republics have not been resolved.
There is a particularly high level of conflict in Dagestan, while in Chechnya there is first and foremost a high level of repression. Here President Ramzan Kadyrov keeps order using heavy-handed methods including murder, torture and abductions.
It is particularly disturbing that the violence has had a tendency to spread to areas further north, in the direction of Volgograd. Earlier terrorist attacks in Moscow and other places have also been linked to conflicts in North Caucasus.
Many people ask themselves why the country's powerful security forces are unable to stop the bombs. The criticism points to a lack of professionalism and preparedness.
However, the threats against the winter games should not be exaggerated, even though well-known rebel leader Doku Umarov has said that they must be stopped. Here the security measures will be extensive and thorough.
Tracing the background to the threats is equally important. Why have the authorities not been able to promote more peaceful development in North Caucasus?

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