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Russia: The bravest World Cup team you’ve never heard of

As Russia prepares for the opening game of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Amnesty International is shining a spotlight on 11 Russian human rights champions who routinely put their lives on the line to defend human rights in Russia.

A new campaign, Team Brave, will profile a human rights defender from each of the 11 regions hosting World Cup matches to raise awareness of their important work, and Amnesty International supporters from around the world will send messages of solidarity to show these brave individuals that they are not alone.

“As World Cup excitement builds, we want to highlight the work of the inspiring men and women who risk their lives and freedom to fight for human rights in Russia. The lineup of Team Brave includes activists who have fought to end torture in police stations, protect the environment, defend LGBTI rights and sex workers’ rights, and support victims of domestic violence – they are the real champions in Russia,” said Inga Kelekhsaeva, Russia Campaigner at Amnesty International.

Global attention may be on the stadiums but we will continue to closely monitor the authorities’ crackdown on human rights.

Inga Kelekhsaeva, Russia Campaigner at Amnesty International

“Throughout the World Cup, Amnesty International supporters from all over the world will be cheering on these brave human rights defenders and demanding an end to the constant harassment and intimidation by the Russian authorities. Global attention may be on the stadiums but we will continue to closely monitor the authorities’ crackdown on human rights.”

Team Brave highlights the stories of 11 human rights defenders across Russia.

They are:

  • Grozny: Oyub Titiev, the head of the NGO Memorial’s office in Chechnya imprisoned under bogus charges since January 2018
  • Sochi: Andrei Rudomakha, an environmental human rights defender who was brutally attacked in 2017
  • St Petersburg: Irina Maslova, who founded a movement to defend the rights of sex workers.
  • Volgograd: Igor Nagavkin, who worked on fighting torture and corruption in the Volgograd region until he was arbitrarily detained in October 2016.
  • Rostov-on-Don: Valentina Cherevatenko, a women’s rights activist
  • Kaliningrad: Igor Rudnikov, an independent journalist investigating cases of corruption until his arbitrary detention in 2017.
  • Samara: Oksana Berezovskaya, who runs an LGBTI rights organization
  • Nizhny Novgorod: Igor Kalyapin, who founded the Committee Against Torture
  • Kazan: Yulia Fayzrakhmanova, an environmental human rights defender
  • Yekaterinburg: Aleksei Sokolov, who fights torture and other abuses in the prison system
  • Saransk: Vasiliy Guslyannikov, the founder of the NGO Mordovian Republic Human Rights Centre

Many of these human rights defenders have faced harassment, intimidation, physical attacks, smear and in some cases have been arbitrarily detained simply for carrying out their vital work.

As part of the Team Brave campaign, Amnesty International is asking supporters to take action for three of the human rights defenders featured, who remain in prison to date or whose assailants remain at large.

Oyub Titiev has been detained for almost six months on fabricated charges because of his human rights work. Environmental human rights defender Andrei Rudomakha was brutally assaulted in 2017 by unknown assailants for documenting illegal construction work on the Black Sea coast, and his attackers still walk free. Igor Nagavkin has spent more than a year and a half in pre-trial detention on trumped-up charges for his work defending prisoners’ rights and combating torture and corruption.

“We are calling for the Russian authorities to score a hat trick by immediately and unconditionally releasing Oyub Titiev and Igor Nagavkin, and conducting a prompt, thorough and effective investigation into the brutal assault on Andrei Rudomakha. The World Cup brings people together from all over the world, and we want to harness some of this energy to fight for freedom and justice for these courageous human rights defenders,” said Inga Kelekhsaeva.

“The Russian authorities cannot continue to intimidate and harass every critic into silence. With the eyes of the world on Russia, they must decide what they want the legacy of this World Cup to be. There can be no winners in Russia until human rights defenders are recognized, protected and free to do their important work unobstructed and without fear of reprisals.”

Background information

On 29 May, FIFA took the important step of launching a complaints mechanism for human rights defenders and media representatives to report rights violations and committed to supporting human rights defenders and freedom of the press in relation to FIFA’s activities.

With the 2018 World Cup taking place amidst a crackdown on human rights by the Russian authorities, FIFA commitments and mechanisms will be put to the test. Amnesty International has urged the Football’s governing body to be ready to confront the Russian authorities and use all of its leverage to effectively protect human rights defenders and stop the 2018 World Cup providing the backdrop for a renewed wave of oppression.

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