The parallels between the 1936 Summer Olympic Games and the 2014 Sochi Winter Games continue to grow. One of the measures employed by Hitler and the Nazis was to shut down domestic media outlets that criticize the brutal Nazi policies and to intimidate foreign press officials into silence or into publishing puff pieces that ignored the growing list of Nazi horrors. Now, as Towleroad reports, evidence of similar efforts by Vladimir Putin's dictatorial regime are increasing. Here are some excerpts:
News sites everywhere have been documenting the issues in Russia surrounding the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, including abuse of migrant workers, the health and environmental impacts of construction, and the rather severe problem Russia has with homosexuality. Russia's response to this dissent has been to try to intimidate and abuse journalists and activists, particularly in the lead up to the Olympic Games.
Human Rights Watch has extensive coverage of these abuses and includes accounts of the Sochi Branch of the Russian Geographic Society having its funding threatened, rejection of the Sochi Pride House, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on websites critical of the government and the Olympics, and several individual journalists and activists being threatened by government officials.
Rule 48 of the IOC bye-laws explicitly states:
The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.Russia's treatment of journalists may wind up causing even more complications for the IOC as these abuses run directly counter to the bye-laws the IOC are obligated to uphold.
Here's more highlights from Human Rights Watch:
“Trying to bully activists and journalists into silence is wrong and only further tarnishes the image of the Olympics,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “One of the non-negotiable requirements of hosting the Olympics is to allow press freedom, and the authorities’ attempts to silence critics are in clear violation of that principle.”Press freedom is guaranteed under the Olympic Charter, which has an entire section on “Media Coverage of the Olympic Games.” The IOC is obligated to take “all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media.” Other by-laws require that “media coverage of the Olympic Games shall not be impaired in any way….”
Starting in 2008, Human Rights Watch has documented the harassment and intimidation of activists, journalists, and others, regarding their actions and comments related to the Sochi Games.
“Preparations for the Sochi Games have been plagued with serious human rights abuses and other problems, many of which have only been brought to light through the efforts of activists and journalists,” Buchanan said. “If the IOC is committed to these issues, it should ask the Russian authorities to immediately stop harassing activists, organizations, and journalists, and investigate allegations of abuse.”Some journalists told Human Rights Watch that local authorities sought to control negative or critical information about Sochi by pressuring editors to present Olympic preparations exclusively in a “positive” light. In addition, several independent online news sources and blogs that post critical materials about Olympics preparations faced highly coordinated, disabling denial of service attacks, where hackers rendered the sites inaccessible.
“Press freedom is a central tenet of the Olympic Charter and no successful Games can take place in an atmosphere in which journalists are afraid to report on stories of legitimate public interest,” Buchanan said. “The IOC should insist that the Russian authorities guarantee full media freedom for each and every journalist reporting in or traveling to Sochi.”
Harassment and intimidation of civil society in Sochi should be seen against the backdrop of the crackdown on human rights in Russia that has been underway for 15 months since the May 2012 inauguration of President Vladimir Putin.
During that time new laws were adopted restricting public assemblies, re-criminalizing libel, criminalizing religious insult, introducing additional restrictions on internet content, expanding the definition of treason, and banning “propaganda” for “nontraditional sexual relations.” A nationwide, government campaign to force nongovernment groups that accept foreign funding and engage in vaguely-defined “political activity” to register as foreign agents aims to curtail a broad range of work by independent organizations.
All of these actions are reprehensible. But they should not be a surprise. After all, Putin is a former KGB thug. Now we are seeing that he's changed very little from his KGB days.