Sochi Olympics countdown sees Russia jailing second prisoner of conscience this week

In a brief and blatantly unfair closed trial at which no lawyer was present, Russian authorities this morning sentenced environmental activist Igor Kharchenko to five days in detention for purportedly “resisting legitimate police orders”, Amnesty International said as it named him the country’s second new prisoner of conscience since Monday. 

Kharchenko, of the Russian NGO Environmental Watch for North Caucasus (Ecologicheskaya Vakhta po Severnomu Kavkazu), was arrested on Monday night and then again on Tuesday after his car was vandalized by masked assailants in Krasnodar, the capital city of the Russian region hosting the Sochi Winter Olympics. Amnesty International has reviewed video footage of his arrest, which contradicts the police’s allegations that he resisted orders.

“It took a judge only a few minutes, behind a closed door, to decide that yet another environmental activist should be behind bars when the Games begin. This happened precisely on the day when the Olympic torch arrived in Sochi. Sportsmanship and fair play are hallmarks of the Olympic spirit, but the Russian authorities seem to have thrown out the rule book in favour of silencing critical voices ahead of the Games,” said Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director. 

“This foul play must come to an end. The Russian authorities must halt their harassment of civil society activists, protect the right to peaceful freedom of expression, and release the Sochi prisoners of conscience: Igor Kharchenko and his fellow environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko, who is currently serving 15 days in administrative detention on trumped-up charges.”