Intel Committtee’s Wyden: Gay People are Second-Class in Russia; US Travelers Must Use Caution

Queer Nation meets the US Olympic Team as the US national athletes tour kicks off

Queer Nation meets the US Olympic Team as the US national athletes tour kicks off

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) appeared yesterday on Jake Tapper’s wee CNN programme “The Lead” to talk about next month’s Sochi Olympics, and he urged LGBT Americans to “think carefully about going there” due to “the fact that the Russians have indicated that gay people are second-class citizens and expose them to violence.”

“The threat of terrorism and the very, very hostile actions Russians have taken towards gay people is a reason for Americans to be cautious about traveling over there,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

For people travelling to Sochi, Wyden advises them to follow the State Department’s travel advisories.

“They have consistently been on target and … the combination of the threat of terrorism and these exceptionally hostile actions towards gay people is a reason for Americans to be cautious,” said Wyden.

Let’s keep in mind that Senator Wyden, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, has struggled in the past to warn Americans about information he has come across but cannot share widely due to constraints on his position on that Committee. Whether he is aware of additional Sochi security threats and Russian anti-LGBT efforts, he may not be able to say.

Meantime, a fifth terror incident was thwarted in Southern Russia today:

Russia’s National Anti-terrorism Committee (NAC) said the latest arrests were in Nalchik, a town about 300 km (190 miles) from Sochi in the Caucasus region, where insurgents want to carve out an Islamic state.

“Security forces have detained five members of a banned international terrorist organization,” the NAC said in a statement received by Russian news agencies. An NAC spokesman confirmed the statement to Reuters.

“The anti-terrorism operation discovered and seized ammunition, grenades and a homemade explosive device packed with shrapnel ready for use,” the statement said.

This follows the three fatal terror attacks (two in one week) last year in Volgograd, through which any train traveler to Sochi must transit, as well as another incident in the south earlier this week:

On Thursday police went on combat alert in the Stavropol region, also in the south, after the discovery of at least five corpses with gunshot wounds and an explosive device.

The head of Russia’s Olympic Committee has said Moscow has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of the games.

Despite these high-profile anti-terror efforts, US experts are losing confidence (video autostarts):

U.S. counter-terrorism experts are losing confidence in Russian security for the Winter Olympics in Sochi after recent suicide bombings targeted a major transportation hub many are expected to use to attend the Games, officials told ABC News this week.

While the Olympic venues in Sochi, the Black Sea resort town hosting the international competition, are being locked down by a massive Russian military cordon, outlying areas in which Olympians, their families and spectators will be transiting are unlikely to be anywhere near as safe from violent Islamist extremists in the region, experts warn.

“I think the real vulnerability may not be within the Olympic games themselves but possibly outside this perimeter where you’re going to have a lot of soft targets,” House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) told ABC News on Thursday.

“Soft targets” are hotels, restaurants, malls and transportation that are not fortified, or “hardened,” like military or government installations.

The State Department’s guidance for travelers to the Olympics can be found here. The LGBT section is below:

LGBT

In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a law banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. The U.S. government understands that this law applies to both Russian citizens and foreigners in Russia. Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100). Foreign citizens face similar fines, up to 14 days in jail, and deportation. The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms, and provides vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as “LGBT propaganda.”

The United States places great importance on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, as well as anyone attending or participating in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The U.S. calls on Russia to uphold its international commitments regarding freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression, now and in the future.

LGBT travelers should review the State Department’s LGBT Travel Information page.

One thought on “Intel Committtee’s Wyden: Gay People are Second-Class in Russia; US Travelers Must Use Caution

  1. Teddy Post author

    From Frontiers magazine:

      Here’s the Frontiers post on the Travel Alert….

     

       

    http://www.frontiersla.com/frontiers-blog/2014/01/10/going-to-sochi-have-escape-plan-ready

       

     

      Going to Sochi? Have Escape Plan Ready

     

      Posted on 1/10/2014 4:00:00 PM by Brenden Shucart

     

       

     

      Back in July of 2007, the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to the crumbling post-democratic dystopia that is the Russian Federation. Since then the international community has looked on with dread as every news cycle brings with it some new, nearly unimaginable tale of terrorism, depravity and violence against sexual, racial and religious minorities. But despite Russia’s clear and unmistakable slide into fascism, the IOC has opted to stand by its choice.

     

       

     

      Now, with the Winter Olympics in Russia just under a month away, the U.S. State Department has issued a travel advisory that should give any right-thinking world traveler serious consternation before making that journey to Sochi, no matter their sexual orientation. 

     

       

     

      Much like President Obama’s decision to send a delegation (headed by out athletes Billie Jean King and Brian Boitano in place of himself, the first lady or any ranking official of the administration) can be seen as the international diplomatic equivalent of the middle finger, this document can be read as a scathing refutation of the IOC’s continued and increasingly shrill assurances that Sochi is a perfectly delightful location for the world’s most prestigious sporting event. The travel advisory can be found in full on the State Department’s website, but here are some of the highlights (emphasis mine):

     

       

     

      MEDICAL CARE: The Olympics are the first large-scale event to be held in Sochi and medical capacity and infrastructure in the region are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics. Medical care in many Russian localities differs substantially from Western standards due to differing practices and approaches to primary care. Travelers should consider purchasing private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance.

     

       

     

      TERRORISM: Large-scale public events such as the Olympics present an attractive target for terrorists. … In July 2013, Doku Umarov, the head of the Caucasus Emirate (an organization the United States designated as a terrorist organization in 2010…) released a video message rescinding prior directions not to attack civilians and calling for attacks on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Caucasus Emirate is responsible for many of the aforementioned attacks. The group has targeted civilians, as indirect supporters of the government, including through attacks on a ski resort, metro system, high-speed rail, airport, and a theater. …

     

       

     

      LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER (LGBT) ISSUES: In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a law banning the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to minors. … The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms. Russian authorities have indicated a broad interpretation of what constitutes “LGBT propaganda,” and provided vague guidance as to which actions will be interpreted by authorities as “LGBT propaganda.” LGBT travelers should review the State Department’s LGBT Travel Information page.

     

       

     

      Just to recap: The 2014 Winter Olympics are being held in a proto-fascist country that has been making international headlines due to mounting human rights violations, in a region of that country known for domestic Islamist terrorism, and a region that has such poor emergency infrastructure that the U.S. government strongly recommends you make arrangements to have a helicopter whisk you away in the event of an emergency.

     

       

     

      What could go wrong, besides everything?