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IOC reassures freedom to criticize Russia's anti-LGBT laws, at least in media interviews

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The Coalition of Russian LGBT organizations received an official response from the International Olympic Committee to their November request for clarification on the impact the ‘propaganda’ law may have on the Winter Games, particularly – on the work of the media and on behavior and statements of the participants.

The IOC decided to not try and obtain clarity from the Russian authorities about the implications of the national ‘anti-propaganda’ legislation. Instead, the Committee repeated assurances to activists, media, and participants of the games about freedom of speech and working conditions for the media in Sochi.

Reacting to the question about the impact of the ‘propaganda’ law on statements about equality and non-discrimination at the games, the IOC stated that athletes and guests of the Olympic games are free to express their views of any kind in response to journalists’ questions, in the social media, and in discussions.

The statement is in response to written communication, that was handed to Thomas Bach at the meeting on 29 November 2013 in Paris, from the LGBT coalition that includes the Russian LGBT Network, Coming Out St. Petersburg, the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival, the Russian LGBT Sport Federation. Rakurs LGBT organization, and Out Loud project. The IOC’s official response, which is dated December, was sent only now, upon activists’ repeated request.

Jochen Färber and Mark Adams of the IOC say:

Participants at the Olympic games may of course express their opinions and will have many opportunities to do so whilst respecting the Olympic Charter, for instance to answer questions if asked in a press conference or mixed zone, in a media interview or on social media and discussing with their fellow athletes, officials and others – to name but a few.

“Sochi pledged, in its bid book, excellent working conditions for the media at the Games and the IOC is working with Sochi 2014 to achieve these objectives. We expect that approximately 14,000 accredited media which will be at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi will be able to report freely on the Games.”

This statement seems to means that it is even more incumbent on the international media covering Sochi to include stories and news about Russia's anti-LGBT laws and the impact of those laws on LGBT people living in Russia. There continues to be a ban on what is considered 'political protest' which may include any public statements or actions in support of LGBT Russians.

“We hope that the media and participants of the Games will exercise their rights for those who usually can’t. We hope that no one will subject themselves to unnecessary and dangerous by its consequences self-censorship in a situation when an outspoken position is much needed,” comments Anastasia Smirnova, coordinator of the LGBT coalition. “We call for the media to ask the important questions and to help us make a positive change in our country.”

Earlier this week, GLAAD released GLAAD Global Voices: 2014 Winter Olympics Playbook, which provides best practices when talking about LGBT people and encourages journalists to share the stories of LGBT Russian people, who face extreme persecution simply because of who they are. For more background information, resources for media, and potential spokespeople, visit www.glaad.org/russia

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