The Olympics are supposed to be a time to celebrate diversity, but the Winter Games set to take place in Sochi, Russia, next year are shaping up a little differently.
The country recently enacted a series of strict laws targeting gays and lesbians -- and even straight Russians who sympathize with the LGBT community. Behavior including kissing a member of the same sex or attending a pride parade can bring a prison sentence in the authoritarian state. Foreigners accused of illicit gay-friendly acts could even face deportation.
Despite assurances by the Russian government that the new laws won't apply to Olympians and spectators, there are legitimate concerns about what level of LGBT tolerance non-Russians will experience if they attend.
Now, a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Russian officials are also trying to silence journalists and activists ahead of the games.
Here's some of what those groups reportedly face in Russia as the Winter Games approach:
Press freedom is guaranteed under the Olympic Charter, but HRW says that reporters who try to point out mistreatment of workers preparing for the Games have faced backlash. Some outlets that attempted to publish unflattering content were reportedly hacked, and other editors faced pressure to publish only positive content.
"Human Rights Watch spoke to editors, journalists, bloggers, and staff of news outlets who have faced threats and harassment after publicizing violations or concerns about the Olympics or other issues of concern in Sochi," the report states. "Criminal charges are being brought against at least two journalists and the general director of a newspaper, apparently in retaliation for their work."
Officials reportedly searched the offices of Mestnaya, a local newspaper in Sochi, after saying that its general director was violating copyright laws by selling pirated DVDs. They reportedly obtained a database of the newspaper's sources and contacts as a result, which are usually only accessible through a court order. The charges against the director were later dropped.
"We [were] not allowed to report on Olympics-related housing problems or do stories about people who had problems after having been resettled because of the Olympics," Olga Loginova, a Sochi-based journalist, told HRW. "I couldn't write about the protests surrounding the Kudpesta TES [power plant construction]. I wanted to, starting in May 2012 when everything started to happen there. But they refused to publish my material…. I was told [the protesting] was a banned subject."
The report notes that Russian police have permitted some activists to stage protests in Sochi about environmental abuses and other issues, but they haven't been consistent about it. Others have reportedly faced attacks, detention and even police searches.
A group called the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus has tried to draw attention to what they say is ecological damage arising out of preparations for the games. Their efforts garnered the attention of the country's Federal Security Service, which inspected the organization's computers and emails. The group was reportedly told to register as a "foreign agent" because it was involved in political activity and received federal funding.
Officials have also reportedly looked into The Migration Law Network, a group that has protested alleged abuses of migrant workers helping to construct the Olympic venues, as well as other groups like the Sochi branch of the Russian Geographic Society, for voicing concerns about the environment.
"Human Rights Watch has documented government efforts to intimidate several organizations and individuals who have investigated or spoken out against abuse of migrant workers," the report says, as well as those who have looked into "the impact of the construction of Olympics venues and infrastructure on the environment and health of residents, and unfair compensation for people forcibly evicted from their homes."