Activist Yevgeny Vitishko, who worked on a report condemning the harmful environmental effects of Olympic construction in Sochi, was sentenced to three years in prison for the totally legitimate, not-at-all political crime of spray painting a governor's fence in 2012.
That year, Vitishko and fellow activist Suren Gazaryan, both members of the Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC) group, were found guilty of "deliberate destruction of property," allegedly causing $4,000 worth of damage to a fence surrounding Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov's residence. Vitishko and Gazaryan called the fence illegal because it was constructed in a public forest. The group reportedly found that protected trees were being logged within the fence's confines.
The two each received three-year suspended sentences for the damage. Gazaryan, who was later faced with more charges, fled the country and has been living in Estonia, where he was granted political asylum. In December, a court ruled that Vitishko should serve out his prison sentence in jail, and on Wednesday, an appeals court ruled to uphold that decision.
Vitishko's lawyer, Alexander Popkov, said the decision was not unexpected, adding that it only bolstered suspicions that the activist was being persecuted for policital reasons. The judge cited Vitishko's recent arrest (for swearing at a bus stop while en route to Sochi to help present a critical environmental paper) as one of the reasons for upholding the ruling. It's understandable that Popkov might see this as persecution, as last week's "hooliganism" charge landed him in jail for 15 days, ensuring that he will spend the rest of the Olympics in prison.