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Russia: Worker Exploited on Olympic Venues is Detained

Migrant Workers Unlikely to File Complaints When Facing Arrest; IOC Should Act

June 3, 2013 Update

Following a hearing on June 3 in the Adler District Court in Sochi, the administrative case against Husein Nurberdiev for “minor hooliganism” was dropped for lack of evidence of an offense having occurred. Nurberdiev still has not received the wages owed to him for construction work on two different Olympic venues in Sochi.



April 12, 2013 Update

Police released Husein Nurberdiev at 1:30 am on April 12, but have not dropped the “minor hooliganism” charges against him. A court date has not yet been set.



(Moscow) – The Russian authorities have unlawfully detained a migrant construction worker who was seeking to file a complaint for nonpayment of wages on Olympic venues in Sochi. This case spotlights a larger problem of an environment where workers who try to file complaints may be threatened, and the International Olympic Committee must take action. 

At approximately 6 p.m. on April 11, a police officer approached 48-year old Husein Nurberdiev from Uzbekistan as he attempted to visit the Sochi office of Memorial, Russia’s leading human rights organization. Nurberdiev had visited the office several times in the last month as he sought assistance for nonpayment of wages and other abuses while employed on two different Olympic venues in Sochi and was preparing to file a lawsuit, together with nine other workers, against one of their former employers.  

“The police had absolutely no reason to detain Nurberdiev and should release him immediately,” said Jane Buchanan, associate director for Europe and Central Asia. “The authorities should also refrain from any kind of interference in the work of nongovernmental organizations like Memorial in Sochi, who provide essential services to vulnerable people.”

The police detained Nurberdiev, allegedly for failing to show his identity documents and for asking the officer to show his official identification.

Under article 5.5 of Russia’s law on police, before complying with a request from a police officer, an individual has the right to ask for the name or identification document from the officer and the grounds for the officer’s inquiry. The officer must comply before taking further actions.

Semyon Simonov, the Sochi coordinator of Memorial’s Migration and Law Network, told Human Rights Watch that the police had been based outside of the office since the early morning, for unknown reasons.

Russia will host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February 2014. Tens of thousands of migrant construction workers from Russia and from outside of Russia have been employed on the venues and infrastructure necessary for the Games, which will be the most expensive ever at an estimated $50 billion dollars. Human Rights Watch has extensively documented abuse and exploitation of dozens of migrant workers engaged in Olympic construction.

“This kind of treatment of migrant workers has no place in an Olympic city,” said Buchanan.  “Both the Russian government and the International Olympic Committee should be ensuring migrant workers are protected from abuse and able to seek assistance and file complaints without fear of harassment and interference.”

Simonov spoke with both Nurberdiev and the arresting police officer by mobile phone immediately after the arrest and again at the police station, where Nurberdiev was being held. According to Simonov, the arresting officer stated both on the telephone and in person that he detained Nurberdiev for failing to show his identity documents and for asking that the officer show his official identity card.  

Simonov went to the police station to assist Nurberdiev and challenged the grounds for Nurberdiev’s arrest, citing the law on police. The officer, apparently flustered, then also alleged that Nurberdiev “swore at him” and “offended him” as he led Nurberdiev to the nearby police station. Police told Simonov they would charge Nurberdiev with “minor hooliganism,” although the exact justification for the charges is not clear. “Minor hooliganism” carries a maximum penalty of 15 days’ detention.

“The International Olympic Committee has asked why more abused workers do not come forward,” said Buchanan.  “Obviously, being hauled away by the police is a major disincentive to others who have suffered and have legitimate claims. It is also a violation of basic rights on several different levels.”

Where cases of mistreatment or human rights abuse are identified – and are clearly related to the staging of the Olympic Games – the International Olympic Committee has a long-standing commitment to follow up on those issues.  

Human Rights Watch said that with the hurdles that already exist for migrant workers to complain about abuses, including that they fear being expelled from the country, the IOC should urgently take up this case with the Russian authorities, including the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee, the official Russian body tasked with staging the Sochi Games. Nurberdiev is currently being held in detention in Sochi and the police have threatened that he could be expelled from Russia. It is not clear whether he has been charged with any violations of law for which he could face expulsion.

The Sochi office of Memorial’s Migration and Law Network provides legal consultations and assistance to migrant workers who allege exploitation and abuse on Olympic and other construction sites in Sochi. According to Simonov, since the beginning of 2013 the organization has documented more than 400 cases of nonpayment of wages to migrant workers on a number of different Olympic sites.

During one of Nurberdiev’s recent visits to the organization’s office, he had spoken with journalists from Voice of America who were interviewing Simonov for a news piece. Nurberdiev’s interview appeared in a video on the Voice of America website on April 5.

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