PtG Article 07.09.2012

HRW call on Russian authorities to uphold freedom of speech and assembly in Sochi

Russian authorities have charged local Sochi residents for protesting the construction of a large power-plant near their homes. 

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the construction of the power-plant, supposed to supply power for the Sochi Games, has been initiated before all legal requirements for environmental assessment and public consultation have been met.

The power-plant, projected to be the largest natural gas-power station in the world, is supposed to be built in Kudepsta, a residential area in Sochi, one kilometre from the sea and 500 m from a children’s resort.

The project has been criticised because it is feared to cause health threats from high levels of pollutant gas and noise. Local activists started protesting when preparatory work on the plant began before results of an environmental impact assessment had been presented at a public hearing, which is required under Russian law.

According to HRW, the villagers have submitted several petitions and complaints to both authorities and the IOC, listing their concerns.

“People in Kudepsta have legitimate concerns that initial construction work has taken place in violation of the law,” said Jane Buchanan, Senior researcher with HRW.

“Preparing Sochi to host the Olympics cannot be an excuse for the authorities to trample laws designed to protect people from health or other harm caused by large-scale projects that by their nature pollute and significantly alter the local environment.”

Last month three activists were detained, and two of these charged with administrative offences. Even though they have all been released, confrontations between activists and police are escalating, writes HRW who urges local authorities to uphold freedom of assembly and speech.

“Cracking down on concerned local residents will not help matters, but addressing the requirement to observe a process that protects the rights of the local residents in relation to the power plant construction might prevent this conflict from escalating further,” Buchanan said.

Earlier this year, HRW called on the IOC to take a look at the increased pressure of media and civil society in Sochi, where both journalists and local residents have reported instances of harassment when airing critique around the Sochi Winter Olympics.