MOSCOW, February 16 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian environmental activist, sentenced last week to three years in prison in a case condemned by observers as politically motivated, has begun a hunger strike behind bars, another activist said Sunday.
“The ecologist Yevgeny Vitishko has started a hunger strike,” wrote Alexei Mandrigelya, an activist for the rights group Ecological Watch for the North Caucasus, on his Twitter account.
Mandrigelya added the Russian-language hashtag #Olimpiyskayazachistka, which can be translated as “Olympic cleanup,” to the message.
A Russian court ruled last week that Vitishko, who had investigated abuses and criticized the environmental impact of construction in Sochi during the buildup to the Olympic Games, had violated the terms of a suspended sentence for vandalism and should serve a three-year term in a medium-security prison.
Vitishko was handed a suspended sentence after being convicted of vandalism in June 2012 for spray-painting the fence of what he said was a local governor's property in a national forest where construction is forbidden.
However, a court in December said that the suspended sentence should be changed, claiming that Vitishko had persistently violated his parole conditions.
At the time of the court’s February ruling, the activist was already behind bars, serving a 15-day sentence for the separate – and highly unusual – charge of hooliganism for swearing in public.
Vitishko and several rights advocacy groups, including Greenpeace Russia and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the case against him as politically motivated.
Rights groups say the move to replace Vitishko’s suspended sentence came shortly before the Olympics opening and signaled escalated pressure on local activists and journalists criticizing the ambitious, if much-criticized, construction projects in Sochi.
The International Olympic Committee has asked the organizers of the Sochi Games to provide more details about Vitishko’s jailing.