Local authorities in Russia have allegedly harassed activists and journalists critical of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims.
The human rights organization stated in a report that, beginning in 2008, it has documented efforts by the government to intimidate those speaking out on, among other things, the effects of Olympic venue construction on the environment and locals' health. The group also claims to have documented the harassment and pursuance of criminal charges against journalists.
“Activists across Russia who expose abuses are under unprecedented pressure, and Sochi is no exception,” HRW's associate Europe and Central Asia director Jane Buchanan said.
Despite the claims, Russian media group RIA Novosti says officials "have insisted that the Sochi Olympics are being prepared with scrupulous adherence to all international norms and have rejected criticism from HRW in the past."
In April, Putin spoke out after a different HRW report was published, defending his government's position on freedom of speech. He argued then, "No one puts anyone in prison for political reasons, for their political views. They get punished for violating the law. Everybody should observe the law."
HRW reports that while some peaceful protests have been permitted by police in Sochi, two non-governmental organizations documenting Olympic preparation abuses "were subject to intrusive government inspections, including at least one organization that had its email accounts examined."
The organization claims that journalists "have faced threats and harassment after publicizing violations or concerns about the Olympics or other issues of concern in Sochi. Criminal charges are being brought against at least two journalists and the general director of a newspaper, apparently in retaliation for their work."
“If the [International Olympic Committee] is committed to these issues, it should ask the Russian authorities to immediately stop harassing activists, organizations and journalists, and investigate allegations of abuse,” Buchanan demanded.
The IOC came under scrutiny recently in a New York Times article for Olympic officials putting "themselves and athletes in an awkward position by only tepidly opposing the Russian law that bans 'homosexual propaganda.'"
Russia's anti-gay legislation is one of multiple criticisms facing the nation ahead of the Sochi Games.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama canceled a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, in part due to differences over human rights issues.