Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday lifted a ban on public rallies and demonstrations during at the Sochi Winter Olympics, bowing to pressure from activists and advocacy groups who claimed the draconian law was to avoid protests against the anti-gay law passed in June.
In August, citing security reasons, Putin had imposed a ban on all public protests inside the highly secured event zone. The decree, which was to be in effect from Jan. 7 through March 27, was condemned by activists who claimed the ban restricted their right to expression. Officials from the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, had also asked the Russian government to allow protests in designated public protest zones in Sochi.
According to the new decree, rallies and demonstrations can be held at designated locations after getting required approvals from the Sochi Games officials and other security agencies. Protest organizers are required to reveal the number of participants, venue and the time intervals of the demonstrations, RIA Novosti reported.
The Sochi Winter Olympics is set to run from February 7 to 23, and the Paralympics will be held from March 7 to 16.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said that local organizers will work with security agencies to identify locations or routes in the city, where demonstrations could be held freely.
Russia, in a controversial decision, had banned "homosexual propaganda" in public places, sparking angry protests and rallies from the LGBT community. The law imposes fines and possible jail time for any individual, organization, media outlet, or government official found guilty of promoting an LGBT identity in public places accessible to minors. Several foreign officials and international rights groups had questioned the safety of LGBT athletes and spectators during the Games.
The surprise move came after the IOC officials last month said that protests will be allowed during the Games at a “protest zone,” and said it had assurances from the government that gay athletes and attendees will not be targeted.
Russia also has planned unprecedented security measures ahead and during the games, following the double suicide-bomb attacks last month in Volgograd, 400 miles from Sochi, that killed 34 people and injured more than 60 others.