Russia Human Rights Watch


With the Winter Olympics are less than a month away, the world’s focus is on Russia’s ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law, but it’s only one of many new laws curtailing personal freedom in the country, says Amnesty Ireland’s John Ryan.


I was delighted that Tom Daly announced that he is currently in a loving relationship with another man. I was happy for Tom in the sense that he had a choice to openly express his sexuality and that he had the freedom to make his decision safe in the knowledge that this would not provoke any major negative or derisory commentary.

Of course there will always be some who will makes comments of the negative variety from the side-lines but these were very much in the minority. The fact that Tom story has gone around the world with even the New York Times picking up on it is testament to the brave decision he has made. Too few of our sports people are prepared to come out. In an Irish context Donal Óg Cusack has been an obvious exception.

In this regard the announcement by Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former German international who spent much of his career in England, that he is gay is also to be welcomed. To date he is one of the most high-profile soccer players to come out. He says he is making his homosexuality public because he “would like to advance the discussion of homosexuality among professional athletes”. He also linked his decision to the Winter Olympics in Russia next month, saying: “The Olympic Games in Sochi are approaching and I think it needs critical voices who will speak out against the campaigns run by several governments against homosexuals.”

In less than a months’ time – February 10, 2014 – the Winter Olympic Games will kick off in the Russian Federation city of Sochi. Speculation has been rife that Russian LGBT athletes will be banned from participating, that LGBT athletes from around the world and visitors will be arrested if they breach the strict “anti-gay propaganda” legislation, that any display of rainbow flags or perceived promotion of LGBT rights will be put down, and that any person seen promoting LGBT rights will be prosecuted.

President Vladimir Putin has backed laws which have legitimised discrimination against LGBT people, denying their fundamental human rights. The “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” law is just one legislative change that will restrict human rights. The law bans public events organised by LGBT activists and curtails activities by LGBT organisers. LGBT people in Russia already face intimidation, discrimination and harassment. LGBT organisations fear that stigmatisation and discrimination will increase under the law.

The right to freedom of expression and, peaceful assembly in Russia, are also currently under severe attack despite the fact that these rights are explicitly guaranteed by the Russian Constitution and international human rights treaties to which Russia is party.

The right to freedom of peaceful assembly has been restricted through excessively burdensome approval procedures, sharply increased fines for alleged violations, and the imposition of additional responsibilities on organisers of demonstrations. By contrast, people supporting government policies are often allowed to assemble and publicly express their views without any similar express official ‘authorisation’.

Freedom of expression is further curtailed through legislative initiatives such as the re-criminalisation of defamation; changes to the Criminal Code that expanded and made significantly more vague legal definitions of the crimes of “state treason” and “espionage”; the new legislation providing for criminal prosecution for “insult to religious feelings of believers”; the law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors – which targets the activism of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals, organisations and supporters.

The Russian government has assured the IOC that it will not discriminate against LGTB athletes, journalists or tourists during the Sochi Olympics. The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee saying that the host country will comply fully with the Olympic Charter’s provision against discrimination of any kind.  But this remains to be seen.

To join Amnesty Ireland’s campaign and take action follow this link.

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