Sochi activist launches hunger strike to protest jail term
Moscow: A leading Russian activist who was jailed after criticising the environmental impact of the Olympic Games in Sochi has gone on hunger strike, his organisation said Monday.
Yevgeny Vitishko was sentenced to three years in a penal colony last week for damaging a fence in a verdict widely condemned by rights groups as an attempt to silence a prominent critic of the Sochi Games.
The 40-year-old geologist has refused all food since the verdict, the Environmental Watch on North Caucasus said in a statement.
"Yevgeny said that he declared a hunger strike on February 12."
Vitishko and his organisation have repeatedly raised concern about the harm caused by massive Olympic building projects in once-pristine wooded and mountain areas of the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The geologist was convicted in 2012 of painting slogans on a fence during a protest against the construction of what the activists believe is a mansion for the region`s governor in a public forest.
He received a three-year suspended sentence but was last week ordered to serve that term in a penal colony for breaking the parole terms of the original sentence.
The International Olympic Committee said at the weekend that they were assured by the Russian authorities that Vitishko`s jailing was "not Games related".
But Amnesty International has labelled Vitishko a prisoner of conscience and called his arrest "the latest episode in the campaign against him by the Russian authorities... to silence one of the most vocal and respected critical voices in the run-up to the Sochi Games."
In a separate incident, police in the southern city of Krasnodar arrested a community leader who had publicly criticised the Olympics.
Asker Sokht, who heads an organisation for Circassians, an ethnic group native to the Sochi area, was detained on Friday and sentenced to eight days in custody for disobeying police, activists said.
The Circassians were displaced from the Sochi region by the Tsarist army in the 19th century. They have been vocally opposed to holding the Games in Sochi.
"It is clear that behind the alleged hooliganism or disobeying charge against him are his critical statements about the Olympics in Sochi," a Circassian activist group said in a letter addressed to the regional governor demanding Sokht`s release.
Sokht last week criticised Games` organisers for failing to acknowledge the Circassians in the spectacular opening ceremony on February 7.
The Sochi Winter Olympics, which finish on February 23, are the biggest event to be held in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union and President Vladimir Putin has staked much of his personal reputation on their success.
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