Amnesty urges Russia to release jailed Olympic critic
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
A file picture taken on December 28, 2013, shows Environmental Watch ecology group activist Yevgeny Vitishko, standing in front of the new road between Adler and Krasnaya Polyana in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. AFP PhotoAmnesty International has urged Russia to immediately release from prison a leading activist who criticised the environmental damage caused by the Sochi Olympic Games.
Yevgeny Vitishko was sent to a penal colony for three years on Wednesday for damaging a fence in a verdict widely condemned by rights groups as an attempt to silence a prominent critic of the Sochi Games.
"Amnesty International is convinced that Vitishko is a prisoner of conscience and he must be set free immediately and without any further conditions," the London-based watchdog said in a statement sent to AFP late Saturday.
Vitishko and his group Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus (EWNC) have repeatedly raised concern about the harm caused by massive Olympic building projects in once-pristine wooded and mountain areas of the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The geologist was convicted in 2012 of damaging a fence during a protest against the construction of what the activists believe is a mansion for the region's governor in a public forest.
He received a three-year suspended sentence but was this week ordered to serve that term in a penal colony after breaking the parole terms of the original sentence.
"This is the latest step in a lengthy campaign by the Russian authorities against the ecologists of the Krasnodar region where the Winter Olympic Games are being held, with the aim of preventing them from talking about the environmental damage caused to the region," Amnesty International said of his jailing.
On Saturday, the International Olympic Committee said that it believed Vitishko's jailing was not related to the Games after seeking clarification from the Russian authorities.
But Human Rights Watch has said his conviction was "politically motivated from the start" and a bid to silence a persistent critic of the Sochi Games, the biggest event to be held in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.