среда, 5 февраля 2014 г.

FrontLine: Arrests and detention of environmental human rights defenders in Sochi region

On 3 February 2014, environmental human rights defender Mr Evgeny Vitishko was convicted of 'hooliganism' and sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention. On the same date, six other members of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC), Mss Anna Mikhaylova, Tatiana Borisova, Olga Soldatova and Messrs Denis Pestretsov, Andrey Mandrigelia and Igor Kharchenko were detained by police but later released.

EWNC is a Russian-based non-profit organisation that has worked to protect the environment of the Caucasus region since 1997. It has been actively involved in monitoring the environmental impact of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games preparations.

Evgeny Vitishko and his colleague, Mr Suren Gazaryan, received suspended sentences of three years in prison with two years' probation on 20 June 2012 after being found guilty of “causing significant damage to private property” under section 2 of Article 167 of the Criminal Code. On 20 December 2013, the Tuapse City Court converted Evgeny Vitishko's three-year suspended sentence to a jail term to be served in a settlement colony. On 3 February 2014, the trial date of Evgeny Vitishko's appeal against the conversion of this sentence was moved from 22 February to 12 February 2014, meaning that he will now stand trial at the Krasnodar Court while in detention. He will be expected to attend via video-conference. If the conversion of the suspended sentence stands, it would mean that Evgeny Vitishko would be sent to a settlement colony directly from the detention centre for serving three years in prison, and would be silenced for the duration of the Olympics.

On the morning of 3 February 2014, Evgeny Vitishko went to the Penitentiary Inspection Office, where he has to report regularly according to the terms of his initial suspended sentence. As he was leaving the building, several police officers who were waiting outside proceeded to arrest him on grounds of suspicion of theft. The human rights defender was taken for questioning to the local police station in Tuapse city and two hours later, police stated that he would be detained on charges of petty hooliganism, for “swearing” at a public bus stop on the morning of the same day. When they were asked by Evgeny Vitishko's lawyer, Mr Alexandr Popkov, whether the decision is based on a formal complaint, police officers replied they had not received any such complaint yet but that they expected to receive it soon. At 5pm, a hearing was heard at the Tuapse City Court under Article 20.1 of the Administrative Code (hooliganism). Evgeny Vitishko submitted a petition asking the Court to notify his lawyer of the hearing, but the Court declined this request and appointed a public defender, whose services the human rights defender declined. The Court also refused to call in the two prosecution witnesses who were supposedly present during the incident at the bus stop. At 6pm, Evgeny Vitishko was sentenced to 15 days and transferred directly to Tuapse detention centre.

Also on 3 February 2014, Anna Mikhaylova, Denis Pestretsov, Andrey Mandrigelia and Tatiana Borisova were detained by police at check point no.5 and then brought to Kalinino police station because they allegedly resembled a group of suspects. During his detention, Andrey Mandrigelia was questioned about whether EWNC planned to hold a demonstration on 4 February 2014 during the arrival of the Olympic torch in Krasnodar. On the same date Igor Kharchenko and Olga Soldatova were arrested and detained in Dinsky district police station. The six human rights defenders were released the same day. No reason has been established for their detention, in clear violation of normal legal procedure.

Front Line Defenders is concerned that these arrests were linked to the arrival of the winter Olympic torch to the Krasnodar region on 4 February 2014, and to the opening of Sochi Winter Olympic Games on 7 February 2014. Front Line Defenders is further concerned that the detention of Evgeny Vitishko is an attempt to silence critical voices as international attention is focused on Sochi during these events.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in the Russian Federation to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Evgeny Vitishko, and release him without delay, as they are solely motivated by his peaceful and legitimate work in defence of environmental human rights;
  2. Ensure that the members of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC) are not targeted for their work to protect the environment of the Caucasus region and for monitoring the environmental impact of the 2014 Winter Olympics;
  3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in the Russian Federation are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.

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