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Media watchdog slams Russian restrictions on Sochi coverage

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January 27, 2014: A view of the Olympic Park and seaside of the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russia has spent about $51 billion to deliver the Winter Olympics in Sochi, which run Feb. 7-23. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

An international journalism watchdog on Tuesday criticized Russian authorities for restricting news coverage of preparations for the Sochi Olympics.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists detailed in a report how Russian and international journalists have been harassed and prevented from covering sensitive stories in Sochi such as the abuse of migrant workers and environmental issues.

The report documented how Russian state-controlled media have been ignoring critical issues while few local journalists working for independent news outlets faced a campaign of smear and harassment.

"Russian authorities have cracked down on journalists, rights defenders, and civil activists in a way not seen since the break-up of the Soviet Union," CPJ coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.

There was no immediate response from Russian authorities to the criticism levelled by CPJ.

The Associated Press last year documented stories of local journalists and activists who found themselves at the front lines of a struggle to reveal corruption and environmental damage in the run-up to the games.

Months before the start of the games, journalists and activists were detained and some of them put on trial. Svetlana Kravchenko of the Caucasian Knot website, a prominent local journalist who has covered environmental travesties in Sochi and the heavy-handed tactics of local officials, was tried and found guilty of beating up a security guard.

Rights groups including Human Right Watch called local authorities responsible for the campaign of harassment against journalists and activists. Local authorities insist that criminal prosecution against members of the public including journalists is a matter of law enforcement agencies and is in no way politicized.

The Black Sea resort of Sochi will host the Winter Games Feb. 7-23.