Free Evgeny Vitishko!
Together with 46 other international organisations, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee has signed a letter sent yesterday to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation Yury Ya. Chaika, where we appeal to take all necessary measures to free environmental defender Evgeny G. Vitishko (born July 3, 1973) immediately and unconditionally; to initiate legal proceedings regarding the wrongful conviction of Evgeny Vitishko; hold those responsible for his conviction legally accountable; and clarify the withdrawal by the Office of Prosecutor General of the request to vacate the decision of the Tuapse city court of Krasnodar Krai from December 12, 2013 to revoke the suspended sentence and transfer Evgeny Vitishko to a penal settlement colony. We also ask you to investigate the facts of the violation of water and forest laws in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai).
One year ago, the Winter Olympics were at their peak in Sochi. Whilst athletes fought for medals and fame, reports of violations of human rights and harm to the environment became more frequent. - To this date, many of the construction workers have not received their salaries, corruption allegations have not been investigated, and various activists are still facing obstacles in their work, says Lene Wetteland, head of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Russia department. – Most alarmingly, some activists are still imprisoned on trumped-up charges and we now turn to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation to address one particular case.
Evgeniy Vitishko of the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus was a very dedicated environmental activist. He protested the environmental consequences of the Olympics construction for years before the opening ceremony, due to its location in a very fragile nature environment. In particular he protested the erection of a large barrier around the Governor’s private property, which fenced off public shore and public forest in the region, in clear violation of the Forest and Water Codes of the Russian Federation.
Despite photos and evidence of this barrier, the prosecutor’s office of Krasnodar Krai denied its existence. However, this did not hinder the Tuapse District court from finding Vitishko and colleague Suren Gazaryan guilty in physically harming the same non-existent barrier and sentencing them to imprisonment. One year ago today, Vitishko was sent to a penal settlement colony for three years. Other activists have left the country or the region for fear of repercussions.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee joins a range of other Russian and international organizations in an open letter to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation Yuriy Chaika, urging him to take every necessary measure to release Mr Vitishko. Simultaneously, demonstrations and pickets protesting his imprisonment are taking place from the Russian Federation to Russian embassies in Washington DC and elsewhere.
-Although the Olympics themselves were a great event, this does not excuse the challenges the construction workers, environmental activists or their defenders are faced with. For Russia to be truly proud of her achievements, these issues need to be addressed appropriately. A good start is to initiate legal proceedings regarding the wrongful conviction of Evgeny Vitishko; hold those responsible for his conviction legally accountable; and investigate the facts of the violation of water and forest laws in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai).