olympics

Russian Environmental Activist Who Criticized Sochi Olympics Jailed For Three Years

An appeals court has upheld a three-year sentence against Evgeny Vitishko, who was found guilty of hooliganism after spray-painting a fence in a case widely believed to be politically motivated.

MIKHAIL MORDASOV/AFP / Getty Images

An appeals court in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar on Wednesday upheld a three-year prison sentence against Evgeny Vitishko, an activist and geologist found guilty of hooliganism for spray-painting the fence of a top official as a form of protest against corruption and environmental degradation.

Vitishko, a 40-year-old father of two, is a member of the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EWNC), a group that has criticized top officials for building extravagant mansions on national park land. He has also been among those most vocal about the damages that Russia’s construction of Olympic sites have brought to the environment.

He was found guilty in 2012, along with Suren Gazaryan, another activist who has since fled Russia, and given a three-year suspended sentence. In December, however, as the Olympics neared and criticism of Russia increased, a judge decided he had broken the conditions of the suspended sentence and ordered he serve time. The appeals court on Wednesday upheld that ruling.

Activists say the case is designed to punish and silence Vitishko, who had planned to travel to Sochi to present an environmental report on the damage done in preparation for the Olympics. After formally filing for permission to go on the trip (as was required by his suspended sentence), he was detained in his hometown of Tuapse a week before the Olympics began, for “swearing at a bus stop,” which is considered to be an act of hooliganism. Prior to the arrest, he had his car searched twice by officers when traveling and accused of violating his probation.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, “Officials had previously warned [the EWNC] about its criticisms of the environmental consequences of Olympics-related construction in Sochi. In March 2013, when the group was inspected as part of the Russian government’s nationwide inspection campaign of nongovernmental groups, officials told the group not to publish the report on Sochi-related environmental damage so as ‘not to harm the country.’”

HRW is currently putting pressure on the IOC to push for the release of Vitishko as well as to address the abuses currently taking place in Sochi.

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