MOSCOW, November 5 (RIA Novosti) – A global human rights group on Tuesday called on the International Olympic Committee to take action over the alleged mistreatment by Russian police of two Norwegian journalists on a reporting trip in Sochi, which is set to host the Winter Games in February.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Russian officials repeatedly detained and questioned a crew from Norway’s TV2 television station over a three-day period starting from October 31.
“Officials took the journalists into police custody three times. At every stop and in detention, officials questioned the journalists aggressively about their work plans in Sochi and other areas, their sources, and in some cases about their personal lives, educational backgrounds and religious beliefs,” Human Rights Watch said.
The episode appears to illustrate intense sensitivity among Russian authorities over any negative coverage of the Games, which are being touted as a demonstration of the country’s ability to successfully host a major sporting event.
Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, said the International Olympic Committee should demand an explanation for the treatment meted out to TV2 reporter Oystein Bogen and cameraman Aage Aunes.
“The government’s treatment of TV2’s crew should shock the International Olympic Committee,” Buchanan said in the statement. “The IOC needs to … insist that no other journalists suffer this kind of intimidation and harassment.”
Human Rights Watch said Bogen and Aunes were reporting on stories in Adygea, a Russian republic bordering Sochi to the north. The journalists were repeatedly denied contact with their embassy, the rights group said.
Bogen told Human Rights Watch that he was surprised at how he had been treated.
“I have been working in Russia since 1995, including in the North Caucasus and many other places, and have never experienced anything remotely similar. They were clearly targeting us and trying to get our sources,” he told the rights group.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has nominally expressed openness to robust reporting about the Olympics, although rights activists insist that journalists have faced routine harassment.
“Your sharp views and fresh and unorthodox ideas, and even constructive criticism, will be useful and in demand,” Putin told a media festival in late September.