Russia and the Sochi Olympics: Go for the Gold in Human Rights!

Amnesty fieldworker Corinne de Réland, university athletes and a Russian bear brave the rain to call on President Putin to respect human rights. © Paul Thompson

By Jackie Hansen, Major Campaigns

On the rainiest day in months, a group of dedicated Amnesty activists marched from the University of Ottawa campus to the Embassy of the Russian Federation to Canada chanting, “Our birthday wish for Putin… respect for human rights!”

Monday, October 7th marked four months until the start of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, to be held in Sochi, Russia. It also happened to be Russian President Putin’s birthday, and the launch of Amnesty’s global campaign to shine a spotlight on human rights in Russia in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The space for civil society to express who they are is rapidly shrinking in Russia, and has been since President Putin returned to power in 2012. Two singers from the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for singing a protest song in a cathedral. People protesting the 2012 election peacefully in Moscow were detained and remain in jail. New laws have been passed that make it illegal to engage in LGBTI advocacy, and a new law working its way through parliament would revoke custodial rights for LGBTI parents.

And most recently, 30 Greenpeace activists—including a friend of mine—were charged with piracy after peacefully protesting Arctic oil drilling in northern Russia, and could face 15 years in prison.

Activists gather across the street from the Russian Embassy to send our human rights birthday message to President Putin (and embassy staff). © Paul Thompson

The world is preparing to send its finest athletes to Russia to compete on the global stage. What we want from Russia is not only to shine in sport, but to shine in human rights. Each and every day, human rights violations take place in Russia. We want to raise awareness of these violations, and we want to let activists in Russia know that they aren’t forgotten and that we stand with them. We also want President Putin to know that we only want for Russia what it purportedly wants for itself—freedom of expression, association, and assembly—these rights are enshrined in Russia’s constitution and international human rights agreements to which Russia is party.

So what can you do?

  • Sign up for our upcoming webinar being held on October 23rd, where you’ll learn more about our campaign on human rights in Russia in the lead-up to Sochi, and share your creative action ideas with other activists.
  • Learn more about the human rights situation in Russia and link to our online actions by visiting our Russia webpage.
  • Share photos of our actions on social media, and take your own photos and video and upload them to social media. Using social media is a great way to get around state media censors in Russia and let activists see directly that you see what’s going on and stand in solidarity with them. Check out our new Tumblr page and share the videos and images on social media—let’s go viral with our message!