Yevgeny Vitishko: Freedom or Death

Freedom or Death
Yevgeny Titov
December 12, 2015
Novaya Gazeta

The condition of environmentalist Yevgeny Vitishko, who is on a hunger strike, is critical.

Yevgeny Vitiskho has been on hunger strike for seventeen days in Penal Settlement No. 2 in the Tambov Region’s Kirsanov District. His kidneys hurt and he is suffering from dizziness and low blood pressure. And yet the wardens have not exempted him from hard physical labor. Several hours before he was to be paroled, the prosecutor’s office changed its position, and so the environmentalist launched his protest.

Yevgeny Vitishko. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International
Yevgeny Vitishko. Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

Vitishko was supposed to be released on November 21. The Kirsanov District Court had decided to mitigate his punishment by changing imprisonment to limited freedom. Vitishko was supposed to go home and register with the police. The breakthrough in the case came after Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Russia’s human rights ombudsman Ella Pamfilova had communicated personally to President Putin about Vitishko’s imprisonment.

At the court hearing, a spokesman for the penal settlement where Vitishko has been serving his sentence, and the district prosecutor’s office petitioned the court for the environmentalist’s release. But right before the scheduled release, on the evening of November 20, the very same prosecutor’s office sent the court an appeal asking it to overturn its decision. The alleged reason for the appeal was that prosecutors were unclear as to where Vitishko had to register, in his hometown of Tuapse or in Slavyansk-on-Kuban, where he has not lived for almost twenty years. The court will examine this appeal on December 22.

Kuban environmentalists Yevgeny Vitiskho and Suren Gazaryan were sentenced to three years of probation under Article 167 of the Russian Federal Criminal Code (“destruction of other people’s property”). Tuapse District Court Judge Galina Avdzhi ruled the men were guilty of ruining the fence around an elite residence in the village of Bzhid on the Black Sea coast. The fence illegally enclosed a considerable section of public forest, but when the environmentalists filed a complaint with law enforcement authorities, the authorities pointedly ignored the violations.

The residence has been linked to Alexander Tkachyov, former governor of Krasnodar Territory and current federal minister of agriculture. Before the Sochi Olympics, Suren Gazaryan was forced to flee to Estonia, where he received political asylum, while Yevgeny Vitishko’s probation sentence was changed to imprisonment.

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