Russia's New Anti-Protest Decree A Bigger Olympics Problem

Russia passed a decree that would severely limit the ability to protest in the country and in Sochi during the Winter Olympics.

Russian protesters, during anti-Putin rally in 2012

Protesters in Russia, like the ones shown here in 2012, are facing severe restrictions in the upcoming Winter Olympics. (Sources: Freedom House, Ilya Schurov)

While attention to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi has been intensely focused on anti-gay and anti-LGBT laws passed by the Russian government in recent months, a much larger problem in contradiction to the Olympic spirit has opened up.  The Russian government passed a decree from President Vladimir Putin today that severely limits the ability of anyone to rally or protest at Sochi for a two month period before, during, and after the Olympics. 

The decree, Presidential Decree No. 686, had been written by President Putin on August 19, and was published this morning local time.  The decree established several police rules during for the period covering January 7 to March 21, 2014, during which time the Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics will take place.  While the decree basically goes over mundane security rules involving what national and Sochi police need to cover in enforcing Russian law during the Winter Olympics, and the enhanced security measures that are required during such an event, what stands out is sections 7 and 9a of the decree.  The Google translation of each says:

7. To establish that the territory and waters within which introduces increased security measures, meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets that are not associated with the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and planned for the period from January 7 to March 21, 2014 are carried out in that period of time.


9.To establish that the period of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games:
a) located in the municipality of Sochi objects of industrial, social, cultural, sporting and household purpose, plots, designed to contain these objects, and other territories in respect of which requires the implementation of special measures for their anti-terrorism protection, subject to enhanced protection in the manner prescribed in the period of preparation for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games;

These sections suggest that Putin will invoke special anti-terrorist laws during the 2014 Winter Olympics at any rally not associated with the Olympics or any protest, making such things incredibly difficult.  While the main issue at the moment is Russia's anti-gay laws, which have essentially made it legally impossible to be openly gay in the country, just about any issue that people have about the world, the Olympics, or Russia in particular, would be targeted.  To give an example, anyone protesting Russia's alliance with Syria in the latter's civil war would likely face arrest and prosecution under the nation's anti-terrorism laws.

What that means remains unclear.  No doubt, though, that given the restrictions Russians already have under current anti-terror laws, it would mean some jail time.  And Russia's prison's make even America's overstuffed prisons look like a day at the spa.