(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - As the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics comes closer, harassment against civil society activists has intensified, Amnesty International said today after the arrest of an environmentalist for allegedly swearing in public.
Evgeny Vitishko was arrested today in Tuapse, part of the Sochi area where the Games will take place. He has been reportedly charged with "petty hooliganism," allegedly for swearing previously at a bus stop.
At a court hearing today he was sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention.
"Vitishko's name has now become synonymous with harassment of civil society activists in the run-up to Sochi Games," said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia deputy program director. "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."
Yevgeniy Vitishko and his fellow activists have been actively 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. Last December, a court in Tuapse ruled that he should serve three years in prison for violating a curfew associated with the suspended sentence. His appeal hearing was reportedly scheduled for February 22, 2014, but now all information regarding it has been conspicuously removed from the court's website.
Amnesty International has already raised concern about his unfair trial which resulted in a court decision to send him to prison colony for three years. His arrest comes as he is awaiting his appeal hearing.
Vitishko's 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 is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million members in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.