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Norwegian TV crew reporting on Sochi Olympics harassed in Russia

Police in southern Russia detained, harassed, and threatened to imprison two journalists from a Norwegian television station who were on a reporting trip to Sochi, Human Rights Watch said today.

Over the course of three days, the Russian authorities repeatedly detained and questioned the crew from Norway's TV2 television station, which is the official broadcaster in Norway of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

“The government's treatment of TV2's crew should shock the International Olympic Committee,” said Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. “The IOC needs to demand a full explanation from the Russian authorities about the bullying of an Olympic broadcaster's staff and insist that no other journalists suffer this kind of intimidation and harassment.”

Russian authorities should immediately stop harassing journalists and ensure press freedom ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Human Rights Watch said.

From October 31 to November 2, 2013, Russian traffic police stopped Oystein Bogen, a reporter for TV2, and cameraman Aage Aunes six times while the men were reporting on stories in the Republic of Adygea, which borders Sochi to the north along the Black Sea coast. 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. In several instances they denied the journalists contact with the Norwegian Embassy in Moscow. One official threatened to jail Bogen.

Bogen told Human Rights Watch that their research and reporting aimed to shed a critical light on different aspects of the preparations for the Olympic Games in Sochi.

“The Russian authorities tried almost every pressure tactic in the book to try to scare these journalists away from critical reporting on Sochi and other Olympics-related topics,” Buchanan said. “Thousands of reporters will visit Sochi for the Games and it is one of the central requirements of hosting the Olympics that they can report without interference and intimidation.”

Press freedom is expressly guaranteed and protected under the Olympic Charter, which dedicates an entire section to “Media Coverage of the Olympic Games.” The IOC is obligated to take “all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media.” Other bylaws require that “media coverage of the Olympic Games shall not be impaired in any way….”

Russian authorities' treatment of Bogen and Aunes contravenes the government's Olympic commitments to protect press freedom, Human Rights Watch said.

For more information on the journalists' ordeal in Sochi, please see below.

Click here for more Human Rights Watch reporting on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Click here for more Human Rights Watch reporting on Russia.

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