Russian Olympic critic gets three-year sentence

SOCHI, Russia — An environmentalist and critic of Russia’s preparations to host the 2014 Winter Olympics who was sentenced to 15 days in jail last week, ostensibly for swearing in public, was sentenced to three years in a penal colony on Wednesday.

The more severe sentence for the activist, Yevgeny Vitishko, was handed down by an appeals court after police alleged that Vitishko, author of a report on the environmental impact of the games, had violated the conditions of his parole for an earlier conviction related to his activism. It was the first high-profile and politically hued conviction during the Olympics, coming despite intense international focus on Russia’s human rights record during the games.

The sentencing was also at odds with President Vladimir Putin’s decision in December to pardon political prisoners before the Olympics, releasing former oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky and members of the punk group Pussy Riot.


Vitishko is a researcher with the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus, a group that has studied the environmental consequences of the preparations for the Olympics. He was detained last week before traveling to Sochi, where he had intended to present a report on environmental damage.

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“The case against Vitishko has been politically motivated from the start,” Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”

The ruling Wednesday suggests that Vitishko will not be released after serving the 15-day term. Instead, guards will transfer him directly to penitentiary officials to begin serving the three-year sentence.

The three-year sentence stemmed from an earlier conviction. Vitishko had been accused of spray painting graffiti on a fence around a summer home believed to belong to the governor of the Krasnodar region. He denied the charge.