Russia: Release environmentalist banished to a prison colony
Photo: Yevgeniy Vitishko of the NGO Environmental Watch on North Caucasus. © MIKHAIL MORDASOV/AFP/Getty Images
The Russian authorities must remedy a gross injustice by immediately and unconditionally releasing environmentalist and prisoner of conscience Yevgeniy Vitishko, Amnesty International said ahead of his parole hearing tomorrow.
Yevgeniy Vitishko of the NGO Environmental Watch on North Caucasus is serving a three-year sentence in a prison colony in Russia’s remote Tambov region. He was sent there in February 2014 after a string of trumped-up charges were brought against him in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Amnesty International fears that he will be denied parole, and accordingly refused even conditional release, based on a litany of so-called “violations” he has been accused of committing in the penal colony. These include: giving an item of clothing to another prisoner who was cold; sitting on his bed at an unauthorized time; storing food in an unauthorized place; receiving correspondence from a lawyer without notifying the penal colony’s administration; and even having a “negligent attitude towards weeding tomatoes” as part of his compulsory labour.
Such absurd “violations” are typically used as a basis for denying prisoners parole.
“It beggars belief that the Russian authorities are using such mundane actions as an excuse to keep the outspoken environmentalist Yevgeniy Vitishko locked up,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
It beggars belief that the Russian authorities are using such mundane actions as an excuse to keep the outspoken environmentalist Yevgeniy Vitishko locked up. Punishing a prisoner for sharing an item of clothing or his perceived attitude towards weeding tomatoes is farcical and flies in the face of international standards.
“Punishing a prisoner for sharing an item of clothing or his perceived attitude towards weeding tomatoes is farcical and flies in the face of international standards on the treatment of prisoners. The penal colony authorities must halt this harassment. Yevgeniy Vitishko must be released immediately and unconditionally.”
Yevgeniy Vitishko was convicted and imprisoned on trumped-up charges after he and his colleagues protested against the environmental impact of the rampant construction and deforestation in preparation for the Sochi Olympic Games.
There are also fears for Yevgeniy Vitishko’s health because he has been on hunger strike since 7 April, a day after Russia’s Supreme Court refused to review an appeal in his case.
Amnesty International is calling on the penal colony administration to ensure that he has access to any medical attention he needs; a person's hunger strike must not prejudice their access to health care.
Also on 15 April, Russia’s Supreme Court is due to hear an appeal by Yevgeniy Vitishko’s NGO, Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, against a lower court’s decision that the NGO should be “liquidated”.