Russian President Vladimir Putin has lifted a ban on public protests during the Winter Olympics next month in Sochi in a further effort to blunt international criticism of his record on human rights.
The ban was reversed under a presidential decree issued on Saturday as an amendment to a four-month-old decree detailing “heighted security measures” for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 7-March 16.
The original decree banned all demonstrations unrelated to the sports events. The ban, condemned by rights activists as an encroachment on the freedom of expression, was apparently prompted by plans of some sportsmen to stage protests in Sochi against Russia’s recent law banning “homosexual propaganda” among minors.
The anti-gay law provoked uproar in the West, with some leaders, including French President Francois Holland, refusing in protest to attend the Sochi Games.
The amended decree said that rallies, demonstrations and marches may be held, but organisers would need to receive approval from authorities on the number of participants, location and timings.
Interestingly, security concerns were cited as the reason both for imposing the ban and for reversing it.
Urging Mr. Putin to lift the ban last month, the Federal Security Agency said that the move would help it manage more effectively potential protests during the Olympics and therefore would improve overall security.
Russian authorities are taking unprecedented security measures for the Olympic Games in the face of acute terrorist threat from nearby North Caucasus. Two suicide bomb attacks on New Year eve in Volgograd, 700 km from Sochi, killed 34 people and wounded more than 60 others.
Mr. Putin is now in Sochi for a “detailed inspection of all Olympic facilities,” according to his press secretary, using the occasion to do some mountain skiing with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.