SOCHI, January 10 (R-Sport) - A town of around 20,000 people outside the main city of Sochi will serve as a so-called “protest zone” during next month’s Winter Olympics, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said Friday.
When he lifted a ban on protests earlier this month, President Vladimir Putin ordered a protest zone to be nominated. Any demonstrations during the Olympics or Paralympics must be approved by local authorities, the police and the security services.
Kozak revealed the zone would be a park in the small coastal town of Khosta, on the road between Sochi and the Olympic Park, around 12 kilometers from the nearest Games arenas. It is not clear whether there will be a similar zone near the Mountain Cluster of snow sports venues.
“At Khosta in the park people will be able to freely express their opinion without breaching the rights of other citizens and without breaching the Olympic charter,” Kozak said.
“At the sports arena, at the sports facilities, in compliance with the Olympic charter, expressing political opinions is forbidden.”
Russia’s state human right ombudsman Vladimir Lukin defended the choice of Khosta, saying it was easy to access.
“It’s possible to travel there by car, by bus or on the train from the center of Sochi, or from the sports center,” he said. “So if people want to exchange opinions and express their views on any topic, they can do it easily.”
The Sochi Olympics have so far attracted protests from groups opposed to Russian laws banning so-called “propaganda” about gay relationships, and from representatives of the Circassian people, who formerly inhabited Sochi before Russian conquest in the 19th century, which they claim was an act of genocide.
Some form of restrictions on protesting have been present at all recent Olympics. In Beijing in 2008, authorities introduced a strict permit system for protestors and arrested some demonstrators, while last year’s London Olympics restricted protests near venues but saw a number of demonstrations in other areas of the city during the Games.
Restrictions on movement in and around Sochi were brought in Tuesday and run through March 21, introducing “controlled” and “forbidden” zones. That followed a call from an Islamist insurgent leader for fighters to "compromise" the Games.
The controlled zones include all Olympic venues and infrastructure, including the coastal Olympic Park and the mountain cluster of skiing facilities; as well as all transport hubs including air, sea and rail.
The forbidden zones, meanwhile, include the border area separating Russia with the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, which is just a few kilometers east of the coastal facilities; as well as Sochi National Park, an environmentally protected area.
The government has also tightened Russia’s mandatory registration system for its citizens visiting Sochi and prevented non-local cars from entering the city without a special Olympic accreditation.