Russia: environmentalist jailed for 'swearing' ahead of Sochi Olympics

‘Vitishko and his friends have been trying to expose environmental violations during the preparation of the Sochi Olympics’ - Denis Krivosheev
 
As the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics approaches, harassment against civil society activists has intensified in Russia, Amnesty International said today, after the jailing of a prominent environmentalist for allegedly swearing in public. 
 
Evgeny Vitishko was sentenced to 15 days administrative detention by a court in Tuapse today, part of the Sochi area where the Games will take place. He has reportedly charged with “petty hooliganism”, allegedly for previously swearing at a bus stop.
 
Previously, Vitishko and his fellow environmental activists have been involved in protests regarding the deforestation, and illegal construction and fencing in areas of protected forest around Sochi. In 2012 he received a suspended sentence in connection with an environmental protest, while last December a court in Tuapse ruled that he should serve three years in prison for violating a curfew associated with the earlier suspended sentence. His appeal hearing was reportedly scheduled for 22 February, but now all information regarding it has been conspicuously removed from the court’s website. 
 
Amnesty has previously raised concerns about the unfair trial which has resulted in the court decision to send Vitishko to jail for three years. Vitishko’s current arrest comes as he is awaiting his appeal hearing, and his supporters fear that he will be held in custody until the day of his appeal under administrative charges and then be sent to a prison colony. 
 
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director Denis Krivosheev said:
 
“Vitishko’s name has now become synonymous with harassment of civil society activists in the run-up to the Sochi Games. 
 
“Vitishko and his friends have been trying to expose environmental violations during the preparation of the Sochi Olympics. For this they are being punished. By trying to lock him up as a ‘petty hooligan’, the authorities are trying to gag him.
 
“The concern is what will happen to civil society after the closure of the Olympics, after the international focus moves away.” 
 

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