No Snowballs in Sochi

By Jacqueline Hansen, Major Campaigns and Women’s Rights Campaigner

In January, a group of people gathered in St. Petersburg for a snowball fight. The police responded by banning it and dispersing the crowd, calling it an “unauthorized gathering.”

This is not a joke. This actually happened.

In May, a group of activists supporting the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, staged a peaceful protest in Moscow against homophobic laws. They were beaten by counter-protestors while police stood by. And then the victims—the LGBTI activists—were arrested by the police.

On June 30th, Russia passed a homophobic law, which violates both its own constitution and international human rights treaties, and discriminates against the LGBTI community. Under the law, “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” is banned. What this means is that members of Russia’s LGBTI community are being firmly pushed back into the closet, and risk fines and jail time for such things as promoting sexual health for LGBTI youth, or kissing their partner in public.

International outcry against this legislation continues to mount—as it should. Sadly, the homophobic law is not the only egregious and rights-violating law to be recently passed.

Ever since Vladimir Putin returned to office as Russia’s President he has introduced laws that:

· severely limit freedom of assembly;

· stigmatize the LGBTI community;

· criminalize insulting the feelings of believers; and

· broaden the definitions of treason and espionage so that human rights activism could potentially be criminalized.

In practical terms this means that the space for freedom of assembly, association, and expression in Russia is rapidly shrinking. You can’t be openly out of the closet. You can’t easily organize a protest or public event of any sort. And it’s incredibly difficult to operate an NGO, and in particular to receive foreign funding.

The Winter Olympics are being held in Sochi, Russia, from February 7-23, 2014. Amnesty International believes that with the spotlight on Russia, we can bring visibility to the restrictions being placed on civil society, and take action in solidarity with our fellow activists who continue to carry out their work, often at great personal risk, from within Russia.

Sign our petition and call on President Putin to end the attack on civil society.

Stay tuned to our website for creative actions that you can take in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Take action to help make sure that people can be out and loud and proud both in Sochi and every single day in Russia. Take action to support the upholding of basic human rights—in the meantime, we can assume there won’t be any snowball fights in Sochi…