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Russia Using World Cup To Gloss Over Its Human Rights Record: Activists

FIFA President Gianni Infantino insists world football's governing body is engaging Russia on the issue

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People play soccer at the Red Square during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia, June 19, 2018.
People play soccer at the Red Square during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia, June 19, 2018. VOA
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Human rights campaigners say Russia is using the glitz of the World Cup to try to gloss over its deteriorating human rights record — and they want tournament organizer FIFA to use its leverage to force change.

The 12 Russian host cities have enjoyed a World Cup makeover, as Russia presents a friendly face and photogenic scenery to hundreds of thousands of visitors. Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, is urging visitors to dig a little deeper.

“Our message to the fans is: Take a little time and learn more about the human rights crisis in Russia today, about what is, in fact, happening under the tournament’s glitter.” She described the situation as the biggest crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.

“Russian citizens are denied their rights to speak freely, to protest freely, and people actually go to jail for posting online things like ‘Crimea is not Russia.'”

 Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov looks out from a defendants' cage as he listens to the verdict at a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Aug. 25, 2015.
Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov looks out from a defendants’ cage as he listens to the verdict at a military court in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Aug. 25, 2015. VOA

Among those locked up is Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and is serving a 20-year jail term on terrorism charges.

In the Russian republic of Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, director of the human rights group Memorial, has been detained on drug charges, which his supporters said are false and politically motivated.

Before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the release of several political prisoners. Campaigners are hoping he may repeat the gesture.

“We got a confirmation from FIFA that the organization’s leadership is engaging on the issue and hoping for a positive resolution,” Lokshina said.

Oyub Titiyev, the head of regional branch of Russian human rights group Memorial, attends a court hearing in Grozny, Russia, March 6, 2018.
Oyub Titiyev, the head of regional branch of Russian human rights group Memorial, attends a court hearing in Grozny, Russia, March 6, 2018. VOA

FIFA President Gianni Infantino insists world football’s governing body is engaging Russia on the issue.

“Concrete progress has been made in terms of human rights and the way we are dealing with human rights questions. Also through football and through an event like the World Cup,” he said in a recent interview.

On the opening day of the World Cup, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was arrested after staging a protest outside the Kremlin, calling for an investigation into the torture and disappearance of several gay men in Chechnya. In 2007, Tatchell was attacked in Moscow by neo-Nazis and suffered partial brain damage.

A short walk from the Kremlin lies Diversity House, set up to provide a safe space for LGBTQ and other minorities to watch the games. Pavel Klymenko, of the equality campaign group FARE Network that organized the facility, said it is intended to make a political point.

Russian police detane gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, center, as he holds a banner that reads "Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people" near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 14, 2018.
Russian police detane gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, center, as he holds a banner that reads “Putin fails to act against Chechnya torture of gay people” near Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 14, 2018. VOA

“This house is a way of saying to everyone — to the footballing world, to the Russian society — that minorities are part of the game, part of society.”

Also read: Canadian Accused Of Helping Russian Intelligence Agents Sentenced To Prison For 5 Years

The fear is that once the fans and footballers return home, Russia’s human rights crackdown may intensify. (VOA)

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British Visa Process May Have Been Compromised Due To Russian Infiltration

Bellingcat and The Insider quickly exposed the agents' real names.

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Police officers stand outside the City Stay Hotel used by two suspected Russian military intelligence agents — who have been accused of attempting to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia — in London, Britain. VOA

Investigative group Bellingcat and Russian website The Insider are suggesting that Russian intelligence has infiltrated the computer infrastructure of a company that processes British visa applications.

The investigation, published Friday, aims to show how two suspected Russian military intelligence agents, who have been charged with poisoning a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury, may have obtained British visas.

The Insider and Bellingcat said they interviewed the former chief technical officer of a company that processes visa applications for several consulates in Moscow, including that of Britain.

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The Internet Research Agency building, dubbed the Russian troll factory, is seen at Savushkina Street in St. Petersburg, Russia. VOA

The man, who fled Russia last year and applied for asylum in the United States, said he had been coerced to work with agents of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, who revealed to him that they had access to the British visa center’s CCTV cameras and had a diagram of the center’s computer network. The two outlets say they have obtained the man’s deposition to the U.S. authorities but have decided against publishing the man’s name, for his own safety.

The Insider and Bellingcat, however, did not demonstrate a clear link between the alleged efforts of Russian intelligence to penetrate the visa processing system and Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga, who have been charged with poisoning Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March this year.

The man also said that FSB officers told him in spring 2016 that they were going to send two people to Britain and asked for his assistance with the visa applications. The timing points to the first reported trip to Britain of the two men, who traveled under the names of Alexander Petrov and Anatoly Boshirov. The man, however, said he told the FSB that there was no way he could influence the decision-making on visa applications.

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British Columbia is willing to hire numerous skilled personnel for their technical industry. Pexels

The man said he was coerced to sign an agreement to collaborate with the FSB after one of its officers threatened to jail his mother, and was asked to create a “backdoor” to the computer network. He said he sabotaged those efforts before he fled Russia in early 2017.

Also Read: Heavy Cyber Attacks From Russia, US, China In India

In September, British intelligence released surveillance images of the agents of Russian military intelligence GRU accused of the March nerve agent attack on double agent Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Bellingcat and The Insider quickly exposed the agents’ real names and the media, including The Associated Press, were able to corroborate their real identities.

The visa application processing company, TLSContact, and the British Home Office were not immediately available for comment. (VOA)