Olympics chiefs have sent a 'please explain' to Russian authorities after a Sochi environmentalist was sentenced to three years in a penal colony for damaging a fence.
Yevgeny Vitishko, a 40-year-old geologist, had campaigned against the environmental damage caused by the development of Sochi for the Winter Olympics.
On Wednesday a judge in Krasnodar, 300km from Sochi, rejected an appeal against a December verdict against Vitishko.
It found he had violated the terms of a three-year suspended sentence, from a 2012 conviction for spray-painting and damaging the fence of a property linked to Krasnodar's regional governor. He and another activist had caused $4000 worth of damage to the fence in a forest, an act the court called “hooliganism”.
Vitishko and other members of a group who calls themselves Environmental Watch on North Caucasus had been drawing attention to what they said was an illegal fence in a public forest.
In late 2011 they opened up a section of the fence and found what they said was logging of protected tree species. Some wrote slogans such as “the forest is for everybody” on the fence.
In December he was found to have “persistently” broken his parole conditions, a decision he unsuccessfully tried to appeal on Wednesday.
Last week Vitishko was also jailed for 15 days for allegedly swearing at a bus stop. His fellow activists said authorities had used the charge to prevent him travelling to Sochi and speaking to journalists about his case.
Human Rights Watch called on the IOC to push Russian authorities to release him.
On Thursday morning the IOC sent a letter asking for information about the case to the organisers of Sochi, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
“We have raised this case in the past” with Sochi organisers, Mr Adams said.
But after Vitishko was jailed they sent another request for “further clarification”.
Sochi in turn relayed the request to Russian authorities. Spokeswoman Aleksandra Kosterina said they expected a response within a day or two.
Mr Adams said he understood Mr Vitishko had violated his parole conditions on a matter not related to the Olympic Games. “I think he vandalised the governor of Krasnodar's house,” he said. “He was on a suspended sentence and my understanding is that was broken. But we would like clarification on that.”
- with AFP