(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – With only a year left before the start of the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia has little time to reverse its increasing crackdown on freedom of expression, says Amnesty International USA.
"In the last fifteen months, there has been a continuing assault on basic rights, including increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, a rise in forced evictions, human rights violations during security operations in the North Caucasus and the passage of several bills which negatively impact NGOs within Russia," said Michelle Ringuette, Amnesty International USA’s chief campaign officer.
"Hosting the Olympics is an incredible honor and an opportunity for the world to come together peacefully in the mutual enjoyment of universal sport," said Ringuette. "It's also the perfect opportunity for the Russian government to do some serious soul-searching and correct its human rights record."
President Putin's continuing escalation of repression has generated concern among many Russian citizens and criticism the world over. Peaceful dissent and protests have been met with arrest and imprisonment, as in the case of opposition leader Alexey Navalny and Pussy Riot - a band which received worldwide attention after three of its members were arrested for performing a song.
"The Russian government must welcome peaceful dissent as a formative tool, instead of stifling it with increasing restrictions," said Ringuette. "Recent legislation has put human rights activists - or anyone who hints at political opposition - at risk of imprisonment, torture or worse."
Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda "Nadya" Tolokonnikova were sentenced to two years in Russia's infamous penal colonies, hundreds of miles away from their families and young children, simply for performing a song. Since their conviction, Maria has received death threats in prison and "Nadya" has been hospitalized due to health concerns. After having criminal charges leveled against him one day before he was set to lead an anti-Kremlin rally, Alexey Navalny learned the Russian government was also targeting his brother.
"Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of the members of Pussy Riot, and for all charges against them to be dropped," said Ringuette. "Families in Sochi who have been evicted from their homes to make way for Olympic development must be compensated or have their homes restored to them."
"Moving forward, Russia must stop persecuting people simply for expressing their beliefs, even if those beliefs don't align with the ideologies of Parliament and Mr. Putin," said Ringuette.
In December, Amnesty International USA released Pussy Riot World Map. The interactive project allows artists, fans and the general public to show their support of the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, through messages of solidarity and photos. Musicians and artists who have voiced their support on the map so far include Sting, Roger Waters, Pearl Jam, Flogging Molly, Foster the People, Switchfoot, Fitz and the Tantrums, Milo Greene, Amanda Palmer, Jesse Harris, Escort, Silversun Pickups, State Radio and My Morning Jacket.
The public is invited to add messages and photographs of solidarity for the two imprisoned Pussy Riot members and/or view the full quotes and photographs of all participating artists at Amnesty International USA's Pussy Riot World Map.
For more information, please visit www.amnestyusa.org.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.