Environmental activist jailed during Olympics
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — An activist who has reported on the environmental fallout from construction for the Sochi Olympics was found guilty Monday of swearing in public and ordered jailed for 15 days, his lawyer said.
Yevgeny Vitishko, who is serving a three-year, suspended sentence for spray-painting a fence, had planned on traveling to Sochi to present an environmental report.
Alexander Popkov, a lawyer for Vitishko in Sochi, told The Associated Press that his client was arrested as he was about to leave the town of Tuapse, 72 kilometers (45 miles) northwest of Sochi along the Black Sea coast, after formally filing for permission to travel to the Olympic city. He was found guilty of swearing at a bus stop, a hooliganism charge.
Vitishko and another activist, Suren Gazaryan, were found guilty in 2012 of “deliberate destruction of property” for spray-painting the fence of what they said was a local governor’s property in a national forest where construction is forbidden. Both men received a suspended sentence, but Gazaryan was later threatened with more charges and fled Russia. He was granted political asylum in Estonia.
Vitishko is a member of the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus, a group that has been key in shedding light on environmental damage in the Sochi area. The organization is expected to present a new report on Sochi later this month.
Valery Khachaturyan, another activist who was present at Vitishko’s trial, told the AP that the court session lasted barely four minutes. The judge refused Vitishko’s motion to summon witnesses who said he was swearing in public.
Vitishko told the court he was visiting authorities of the penitentiary at the time when the unidentified witness claimed he was swearing at a bus station, Khachaturyan said.
The 15-day sentence means that Vitishko won’t be in the Sochi area for most of the Olympics, as well as the torch relay through Tuapse.
Although Russians swear abundantly in public, it is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine or up to 15 days in jail. It is an offense that is rarely enforced.
Rights groups have accused Russian officials of harassing activists and journalists in the Sochi area, detaining them on trumped-up charges.