Critic of Sochi Games construction jailed for three years

Wed Feb 12, 2014 2:44pm EST
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By Ian Bateson

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian environmentalist who campaigned against ecological damage from construction work for the Sochi Olympics is to spend three years in a prison colony, after losing an appeal against his sentence on Wednesday.

Supporters said Yevgeny Vitishko, who was convicted of damaging the regional governor's property, was being punished for publicizing problems caused by the Winter Games.

"The case against Vitishko has been politically motivated from the start," Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"When the authorities continued to harass him it became clear they were trying to silence and exact retribution against certain persistent critics of the preparations for the Olympics."

Vitishko initially received a suspended sentence in 2012 for "deliberate destruction of property" after spray-painting the word "thief" on the fence of the residence of the pro-Kremlin governor of Krasnodar region, Alexander Tkachyov.

Vitishko has denied the charges and said the governor's residence was in a national forest where construction was not supposed to be permitted.

His prison sentence was reinstated last year after he was accused of violating the terms of his suspended sentence by ignoring restrictions on travel outside his hometown of Tuapse, near Sochi, on the Black Sea.

That decision was upheld on Wednesday by a court in Krasnodar, 170 km (100 miles) northwest of Sochi.   Continued...