New York: The four-month campaign protesting Russia`s ban on "gay propaganda" is entering a new phase, as human rights activists try to heighten pressure on the Olympics` top corporate sponsors to speak out before the Winter Games in Sochi.
The Worldwide Olympic Partners, among them Coca-Cola, McDonald`s and Visa, have thus far sidestepped requests to explicitly condemn the law, rebuffing efforts that included behind-the-scenes meetings and correspondence with Human Rights Watch.
Now, that organisation and some of its allies have decided to go public with their dissatisfaction.
"It`s taken months for the sponsors to formulate lawyerly responses that say nothing," said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. "We`re going to work hard between now and Sochi to not let them off the hook."
The focus of the protests is a law passed with near unanimous support by Russian lawmakers and signed by President Vladimir Putin in June. It bans the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" and imposes fines for providing information about the gay community to minors.
Its critics say the law reflects broad hostility toward gays and lesbians in Russia, fueling harassment and occasional acts of violence.
Launched in July, the multifaceted protest movement has had some successes and some setbacks. It clearly has raised awareness about the gay-rights situation in Russia and also has boosted hopes among activists that the International Olympic Committee will be more attentive to human rights issues in selecting future Olympic hosts.
Nonetheless, activists acknowledge some frustration that the contested law remains firmly in place, spared direct criticism by some of the Olympic movement`s major players.
"The reason why everyone is struggling with this is because there`s no magic bullet," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest US gay-rights group. "There`s no easy path to victory."