Critics of Sochi Olympics allege harassment by Russian government

Tuesday December 17th, 2013

The above photo shows the Iceberg figure-skating and short-track venue at the Sochi Olympics. (Mikhail Mordasov/AFP/Getty Images) Critics question environmental issues and non-transparent bids tied to the Sochi Olympics. (Mikhail Mordasov/AFP/Getty Images)

Environmentalists, human rights activists and journalists campaigning to expose corruption and environmental damage involving the Sochi Winter Olympics claim they are being harassed by local authorities and Vladimir Putin's government, per the Associated Press.

Human rights groups claim the government has resorted to tactics such as detaining critics, putting them on trial and barring environmentalists from area beaches.

"Authorities in the Krasnodar region are harassing the environmentalists and activists who dare to speak critically of them in the context of the preparations for the Olympics in Sochi," said Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. As the games approach, she said, "the pressure is increasing."

The regional Krasnodar government and local law enforcement agencies said they were unaware of any harassment of activists.

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Examples of harassment in the report include:

When Svetlana Kravchenko visited the water company to demand answers about a supply cut in Sochi, she suddenly found herself surrounded by security guards. The veteran reporter pushed her way out of the office and into the street, as the guards clutched at her clothes and tore off a sleeve. The next day, Kravchenko was charged with beating up one of the guards who had towered over her. A medical examination documented a 0.3 millimeter (microscopic) scratch on his ear. Six months later Kravchenko was found guilty and fined 10,000 rubles ($300).

Natalya Kalinovskaya and her neighbors have written dozens of petitions and organized rallies to protest what they say was illegal construction on their local beach.

The activist, who already has a degree in economics, is now getting one in environment studies. She has been repeatedly detained at protest rallies.

In February, a local court upheld a complaint against Kalinovskaya by state contractor Olympstroi — and barred her as an "obstacle" to construction works on the beach. Olympstroi told the AP that it sued Kalinovskaya because it had information that she and other activists were "hampering construction."

Andrei Rudomakha leads the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus, the key force behind exposing illegal landfills, the destruction of landscapes and endangered trees, and the contamination of the key waterway in Sochi.

Rudomakha has repeatedly landed in trouble with authorities: He has been detained at protest rallies, vilified in state-controlled media, and his office has been raided by the Federal Security Service.

Now he is being investigated on suspicion of slandering a judge he claims of convicting an activist over an unsanctioned protest on officials' orders. "Authorities are sending a message," Rudomakha said: "Don't go too far, or things will get worse."

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