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Switzerland's Dario Cologna, right, competes to win the men's cross-country 30k skiathlon, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Kirsty Wigglesworth, AP

Olympic critic jailed in Russia

  • Article by: Andrew E. Kramer
  • New York Times
  • February 13, 2014 - 2:24 AM

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

The more severe sentence for the activist, Yevgeny Vitishko, was handed down by an appeals court after the police alleged that Vitishko, co-author of a report on the environmental effects from 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 Olympic competitions, which began in Sochi last week, and came despite the 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 ahead of the Olympics.

Vitishko is a researcher with a group, the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus, that has studied the environmental consequences of the preparations for the Olympics and has been under official pressure for years. He was detained last week before traveling to Sochi, where he had intended to present a report on environmental damage; that report was posted on the group’s website Wednesday.

“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 decision Wednesday by the Tsekhomskaya Court in Krasnodar, the provincial capital of the administrative region where Sochi is located, suggests that Vitishko will not be released after serving the 15-day term.

Instead, colleagues at Environmental Watch said, guards will transfer him directly to penitentiary officials so he can begin serving the three-year sentence.

© 2014 Star Tribune