More than 200 protesters, supported by thirty Brussels-based organizations, held a demonstration to coincide with the arrival of Vladimir Putin in Brussels on Tuesday, Jan. 27th. The visit of the Russian head of state was received by gay, lesbian and trans- associations, including some sports organizations, and international human rights NGOs such as International Partnership for Human Rights and Amnesty International. Participants blew whistles and shouted slogans in protest of the draconian Russian laws intended to inhibit civil society and vilify homosexuality.
The protest aimed to focus on human rights in Russia, in light of the upcoming Sochi Olympics which begin in early February. “Human rights are not a game and cannot fall by the wayside under the pretext of reporting more important news,” said Catherine Absalom of the International Federation of Human Rights. The world of sports, which values equality, diversity and the inclusion of all cultures, is preparing for an international event in a country whose government openly represses these same values. “Hundreds of NGOs are fast disappearing in Russia and very violent attacks are now backed by the Russian government,” continued Simon Papuashvili of International Partnerships for Human Rights. “The situation is intolerable, because the European Union is preparing to welcome Russia, without any intention to resolve the dramatic reality experienced by tens of thousands of Russians,” he concluded.
Rainbowhouse Brussels and the association Outrage! have repeatedly asked the Belgian Olympic Committee to submit a number of proposals relating to the respect for athletes at the Sochi Olympics, but their attempts remain in vain. “The Belgian Olympic Committee did not even acknowledge the receipt of our demand,” says Bjorn Pius, on behalf of Outrage! If the IOC was satisfied with the agreements negotiated with the Russian government to protect LGBTQI people at the Games, representatives of LGBTQI organizations present at the event certainly were not. “The first person has already been arrested last week on the route of the Olympic flame,” says François – Massoz Fouillien, spokesperson for Rainbowhouse Brussels. “We must remind the International Olympic Committee that the Games are not only about sports, but they represent a very important symbol for all nations. The Committee, as representatives of the European Union, can no longer hide behind that excuse. Sochi has become primarily a struggle for freedom of human rights. It is on them to take responsibility and make the right choice, if only in the organization of future Olympics.”
The 200 demonstrators intended to challenge European leaders on the situation of human rights in Russia and show their support for Ukraine, which also faces pressure from the Russian government.
See also Brussels demonstration in solidarity with Russian civil society 23/01/14