Putin Bans Protests, Most Drivers During the Sochi Olympics
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning demonstrations and severely restricting vehicle usage in Sochi before, during and after the upcoming Winter Olympics, creating a "forbidden zone" around the city.
The country's official government newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published the decree earlier today. It bans all "gatherings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets" from January 7 to March 21. The Winter Games run from February 7 through 23 and the Paralympics run from March 7 to 16.
The decree also includes heavy restrictions on vehicle use in Sochi. Only emergency vehicles, vehicles accredited by Olympic organizers, and cars with local license plates will be allowed to enter the city during those ten-and-a-half weeks. Russian authorities say they hope the restrictions will prevent attacks by insurgents in nearby North Caucasus republics.
According to the Telegraph, Doku Umarov, a "self-proclaimed Emir of the Caucasus Emirate" (believed to be behind 2010's Moscow subway suicide bombing and 2011's Domodedovo airport suicide bombing), released a video earlier this summer in which he cancelled a ceasefire against Russian civilians, calling for "maximum force" to disrupt the upcoming Olympics.
While the vehicle restrictions are seen as a anti-terrorism measure, it is speculated that the demonstration ban is related to the country's intensely criticized "gay propaganda" ban.
The Associated Press reports that Russia's deputy prime minister sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee earlier this week promising to comply with the Olympic charter provision against discrimination. But the letter letter also defended the country's anti-gay law, and says it will be enforced.
Russian gay activist Nikolai Alexeyev told the Associated Press that he will petition the Supreme Court next week to contest the decrees which, he says "violat[e] our right of freedom of assembly."