January 16, 2014 / 10:19 AM / 5 years ago

Finnish minister to boycott Sochi opening ceremony

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland’s sports and culture minister will boycott the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month due to concerns over Russia’s human rights violations.

“As a politician... one must not support violations of human rights, limitations in the freedom of speech or repressing of sexual minorities,” Paavo Arhinmaki, who is also chairman of the Finnish Leftist Alliance party, said in a television interview with public broadcaster YLE.

He also criticized the awarding of other global sporting events to countries with poor human rights records.

“This is a very big problem in the sports community, as these issues are not taken into account when deciding on venues,” he added.

“The world ice hockey championships will be played in Belarus, the last dictatorship in Europe. The football World Cup is being built in Qatar with slave work.”

Last year, Arhinmaki waved a rainbow flag to support sexual minorities when he attended the world athletics championships in Moscow.

The move divided opinion in Finland, which was part of Russia in the 19th century and fought the Soviet Union twice during the World War II.

Russia last year adopted a new law that bans homosexual “propaganda” directed at minors. Critics say the law curtails rights to free speech and assembly, and the law has triggered protests in many countries.

According to YLE, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen have both said they would attend the opening ceremony being held on February 7.

(This refiled version of the story fixes third paragraph)

Reporting By Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by John O'Brien

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