The International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday that Russian authorities “plan to set up a protest zone in the city of Sochi.”
Concern about protests at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February have been building for months since the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin enacted laws to prohibit virtually any form of positive expression about “non-traditional” sexual orientations. Activists have pushed athletes, corporate sponsors, and others to express their opposition to the anti-gay laws. The Russian government has promised to both abide by the Olympic Principle 6, which prohibits discrimination of any kind, and to enforce its anti-gay laws. In August, Putin even issued a special decree banning political protests during the Olympics in Sochi.
In a press release Tuesday, IOC President Thomas Bach said he welcomes the plan for the protest zone “and the fact that people will now have an opportunity to express their views and freely demonstrate their opinions in Sochi.”
"There is something terribly wrong if the head of the International Olympic Committee must request a guarantee that athletes, spectators, and Russian citizens will not be punished for speaking their mind," said Andrew Miller, a member of Queer Nation, an activist group that has been protesting against Russia's anti-LGBT laws.
"IOC president Thomas Bach continues to collaborate with the Russian government while Russian LGBT citizens are arrested, jailed, beaten, raped, tortured, and murdered,” said Miller. “Instead of negotiating a protest zone, he should be demanding the repeal of Russia's anti-LGBT laws and insisting that the Russian government respect the human rights of all its citizens."
The news of a “protest zone” came just one day after the IOC announced that it would, during Tuesday’s IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne, approve a letter to athletes reminding them that Rule 50 of the IOC Charter states that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Tuesday’s press release indicated that the executive board did discuss Rule 50, as well as Rule 40, related to drug testing.
Bach told reporters that the idea had been “under discussion with the IOC for quite some time,” though no mention of the possibility had been mentioned previously.
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