SOCHI, Russia (AP) — They are fearless, stubborn and increasingly under siege. Environmentalists, activists and journalists in Sochi have spent years exposing the dark side of Vladimir Putin's showcase Winter Games — and now they're paying the price.
In recent months, these campaigners have been detained, put on trial and even barred from going to the beach.
With the Olympics less than two months away, authorities are stepping up the pressure as these men and women refuse to back down in their fight to shed light on what they insist has been the destruction of the environment and a way of life.
In a recent report, Human Rights Watch called local authorities directly responsible for the campaign of harassment against activists in the Krasnodar region, which includes Sochi. Rights groups have lamented Russia's human rights record for years, but critics say the tactics in Sochi are extreme even by this country's notoriously overbearing standards.
"Authorities in the Krasnodar region are harassing the environmentalists and activists who dare to speak critically of them in the context of the preparations for the Olympics in Sochi," said Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. As the games approach, she said, "the pressure is increasing."
Anna Minkova, a spokeswoman for the Krasnodar government, said that authorities were "not aware of the instances of the harassment of civil activists" that the AP brought forward. She added that the activities of law enforcement agencies are not under the regional administration's authority. Local law enforcement agencies declined repeated requests from AP to comment both on the overall alleged clampdown and specific claims of harassment.
Here are some of the local activists and journalists at the front lines of a struggle to reveal corruption and environmental damage in the run-up to Russia's $51 billion Winter Olympics: