On November 5, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that police repeatedly “detained, harassed, and threatened to imprison” two Norwegian journalists who were headed for Sochi. The two journalists were with TV2, the Norwegian TV station that will be an official broadcaster of the Sochi Olympics in Norway. According to HRW, the police stopped reporter Oystein Bogen and cameraman Aage Aunes six times in the span of a three-day visit while they were in Adygea and Krasnodar regions from October 31 to November 2. Adygea borders Krasnodar region. It is quite close to the city of Sochi and is connected to the Olympics because of the Circassians’ demands that their historical legacy in the area around the Olympics site be respected.
On November 2, the police stopped the journalists while they were on their way from the city of Maikop to Sochi and again in the city of Tuapse, which is in the Krasnodar region. The police used their entire arsenal of special measures on the Norwegian journalists. They were threatened with imprisonment, detained, checked for drugs, denied access to the Norwegian embassy, had their telephones tampered with by the security officials, and so on. Bogen stated that he had worked in Russia since 1995, including in the North Caucasus, and had never experienced such pressure from the police. Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that thousands of foreign journalists are expected to arrive in Sochi and its surroundings, so the Russian government has to make sure that the journalists are treated properly (https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/05/russia-tv-crew-reporting-sochi-olympics-harassed).
As the Russian security services have virtually sealed the Sochi area off from the media, it is not surprising that the Russian media, in reporting on the Norwegian journalists’ travails, cited the HWR website rather than their own sources. Reuters received an official letter from the Russian foreign ministry apologizing for the overly zealous security officials and reassured the news agency that such incidents would not happen again (https://ru.reuters.com/article/topNews/idRUMSE9A500F20131106?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0&sp=true).
In a short video released on the TV2 website, the journalist asks a Russian woman on camera whether the Olympics will be good for everyone. The woman addresses her friend, saying jokingly: “They are asking provocative questions, Katya, I do not know what to say. If I say something wrong, [President Vladimir] Putin and [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev will shoot me” (https://www.tv2.no/nyheter/utenriks/tv-2s-team-anholdt-flere-ganger-i-russland-4149804.html). The woman’s remarks were only partly a joke. In fact, local Russian activists and journalists in Sochi who are not under Russian government control encounter even less flattering treatment than foreign journalists.
For example, HRW noted that Nikolai Yarst, a Sochi-based journalist for the Russian Public Television channel, was stopped on May 23, on suspicion of illegal drugs possession. Yarst remains under house arrest and is forbidden from using any means of communication, having visitors, or working (https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/05/russia-tv-crew-reporting-sochi-olympics-harassed). On October 31, Andrei Rudomakha, an environmental activist and the coordinator of the leading environmental organization Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus, was briefly detained in connection to a criminal libel case brought against him more than a year earlier (https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/11/01/dispatches-hazardous-environment-sochi). Another activist of the organization, Dmitry Shevchenko, was detained after his arrival in Krasnodar from St. Petersburg on November 9. The activist was subjected to a thorough search, with no witnesses as required by the law, and released after five hours (https://ewnc.org/node/13039). Shevchenko was told that he was being arrested under the framework of the special operation connected to the preparations for the Olympics in Sochi. Moreover, the activist was allegedly listed as a member of a “subversive-terrorist group.” Thus, Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus concluded that the authorities essentially equated environmentalists with terrorist groups (https://ewnc.org/node/13051).
The Russian security services are being asked to carry out a nearly impossible task—to ensure public safety in Sochi, prevent any leakage of all negative, controversial information from the area and at the same time provide comfortable work conditions for foreign journalists. The latter will inevitably become the lowest priority task. While the Caucasus Emirate’s potential threat to the Olympics draws the most public attention, there are also other disaffected but completely peaceful groups in Russia that would like to draw the attention of the world community to their activities and problems. These include environmentalists, political activists and human rights defenders, Circassian civil groups that want to draw attention of the Olympics audience to their problems, and others. Recent events show that the Russian security services are acutely aware of the peaceful protest groups and are preparing to crack down on them before they can “spoil” the Olympics for the Russian leadership. Thus, we are likely to see more incidents involving foreign and Russian journalists and activists in the months to come and during the actual Olympics in Sochi.