SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The jailing of a Russian environmentalist who had accused authorities of damaging the environment in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics is not related to the Games, the International Olympic Committee said on Saturday.
Yevgeny Vitishko, who has protested against harm done to the environment by Olympic construction work, lost an appeal against his three-year jail sentence on Wednesday on charges of damaging the property of the local Krasnodar region’s governor.
“We have had confirmation from Sochi (Games organizers), who got the information for us from the relevant authorities, that this is not Games related,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters.
“We understand that Mr. Vitishko was arrested after painting a house or vandalizing a house about three years ago, he was given a suspended sentence at the time for that.
“Subsequently my understanding is he broke that suspended sentence and was subsequently jailed. So our understanding is that it is not Olympic related,” he said.
The court’s decision put the spotlight on concerns about the independence of the judiciary under President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his personal and political prestige on the Games and denies interfering with court decisions.
“As you know, we have discussed relocation of people, workers’ unpaid wages, Ashtyr village,” said Adams, naming several cases where the IOC sought action from organizers.
“When we’ve raised those, we want action, we got action on those ones. On this particular one we do not think — we are assured — it is not Olympic related,” he said.
Vitishko, who will be taken to a penal colony, has denied the charges and said the governor’s residence was in a national forest where construction was not supposed to be permitted.
Accusations of environmental damage during the building of the venues for the Winter Olympics have been aimed at the organizers since Russia was awarded the Games in 2007.
The organizers have said that three trees have been planted for every one cut down but the mountain venues at the Krasnaya Polyana have largely been built from scratch in an area that had very limited winter sports tourism prior to the Games.
The Kremlin says courts are independent in Russia and that there are no political prisoners in the country, despite accusations by critics that Putin has clamped down on opponents since starting his third term as president in 2012.
Editing by Peter Rutherford