Political Arrests in Sochi Reflect Russia’s Escalating Crackdown on Dissent
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today expressed concern over news reports that Russian authorities have arrested activists, journalists, and political dissenters – including Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot – this weekend in Sochi. Reports indicate Russian police have made several arrests over the past few days, including that of transgender former Italian parliamentarian Vladimir Luxuria who held up a rainbow flag at the Olympics, migrant workers’ rights activist Seymon Simonov, and the two Pussy Riot Members.
“These targeted arrests are clearly another effort by Russian authorities to prevent voices of dissent from being visible in and around the Olympic Park,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord, who just returned from Sochi this morning. “The Russian authorities’ relentless efforts to shut down freedom of expression, particularly when it is coming from the LGBT community, is further proof that Russia is more interested in creating a climate of fear for its citizens than allowing for the free exchange of ideas that characterize modern nations.”
Simonov, Tolokonnikova, and Alyokhina were detained by police in Sochi under the alleged suspicion of theft and are being held along with several journalists and supporters at a police station in Adler. Human Rights First met with Simonov just last week to discuss the dire situation for migrant workers in Sochi. Simonov actively advocated for the rights of workers who have been forced to work in preparation for the Olympics under deplorable conditions.
An attorney for the Pussy Riot members reports that the women were beaten by police. Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina were released from prison in December under President Vladimir Putin’s amnesty bill. They had been serving sentences for convictions of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility” following an August 2012 nonviolent protest against President Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow’s main cathedral. Russia’s approach to addressing hate crimes through the prism of extremism has led to an array of misuses against nonviolent dissenting voices including journalists, activists, independent media and religious organizations.
Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to press Russian officials to clarify the application of the anti-propaganda law, as well as end the systematic persecution of civil society, and prevent the passage of further discriminatory laws.