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Amnesty law “PR” for Sochi Olympic Games

The Associated Press reports, “Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were granted amnesty last week in a move largely viewed as the Kremlin’s attempt to soothe criticism of Russia’s human rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February. The third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released on a suspended sentence in 2012. Tolokonnikova walked out of a prison gate in the eastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on Monday, smiling to reporters and flashing a V sign. Hours before that, Alekhina was released from the prison colony outside the Volga river city of Nizhny Novgorod. Alekhina told Dozhd TV channel, ‘This is not an amnesty. This is a hoax and a PR move.'”

There have been other prominent news reports of harm to people and the planet related to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Environmental protest criminalized

In early November, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow signed a letter that called on “Russian authorities to immediately release the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists from the ‘Arctic Sunrise’ arrested for their peaceful protest of the Prirazlomnaya oil platform belonging to the international oil and gas company Gazprom. …We applaud the sober minded and non-violent protests against Gazprom’s oil drilling in the Arctic, which poses a dangerous threat to the fragile Arctic environment and the global climate.”

The last of the Arctic 30 was released from jail on November 28, 71 days after his arrest. The activists were initially charged with piracy then faced charges of hooliganism (with a maximum sentence of seven years in jail). The Mirror now reports, “Lawyers say the amnesty will also mean 30 people arrested in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic drilling will also be able to avoid trial.”

The rights of migrant workers violated

In February 2013, a Human Rights Watch report said that many of the 16,000 migrant workers – employed to build the luxury hotels and sports complexes for these Games – were underpaid and overworked. The Toronto Star reported, “The 67-page report – one of a series on abuses linked with the Olympic Games – chronicles allegations of exploitative conditions faced by migrant workers from economically depressed Central Asia, Armenia, Ukraine and Serbia. They range from nonpayment of wages to slashed pay, confiscated documents and unhealthy food and lodgings.”

Russia’s anti-gay laws

CNN has reported on, “New laws in Russia banning gay ‘propaganda’ — a law critics say is so vague that anyone can be prosecuted for wearing a rainbow T-shirt or holding hands in public with someone of the same sex.” With athletes set to protest this, the International Olympic Committee said, “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted.” The Guardian reports, “The IOC has also said that Sochi organisers will provide ‘protest zones’ where demonstrations would be permitted.” This is unacceptable.

Watershed destruction

In April 2010, the Toronto Star reported on the harm being done to “the ecologically fragile Mzymta River valley” because of the Games. “[There is] a frenzy of construction underway, carving an all-important road-and-rail corridor linking the icy mountains to the palm-lined seashore. The work is so aggressive that Russian environmentalists withdrew from the project in disgust, accusing Moscow of breaking its own laws, permanently trashing a rare and pristine wilderness in its quest to reclaim global glory.”

In March 2010, the United Nations Environment Program also issued a report that stated irreparable environmental harm has already been done during the construction of the road and rail communications corridors linking the mountain venues with those on the Black Sea Coast. And concerns were raised in 2009 about a planned road to the Olympic Ski Complex on Psekhako Ridge that would cross the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gazprom is the investor behind this road that will lead to their new mountain resort.

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics take place February 7-23, 2014.

In 2010, the Council of Canadians raised numerous concerns about the Winter Olympics in Whistler/ Vancouver, including the Games being held on unceded First Nations territories, corporate sponsorship by Coca-Cola, the use of public funds better spent on meeting public needs, the failure of the Harper government to respect a United Nations call for a truce in Afghanistan during the Games, and the damage done by the Sea-to-Sky highway expansion between Vancouver and Whistler.