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NGOs demand freedom for Evgeny Vitishko

An open statement to the Russian Prosecutor General requesting that he take steps to immediately free Evgeny Vitishko, a Russian environmental activist who is in a penal colony on trumped up charges.

We, the undersigned non-governmental not-for-profit organizations, hereby appeal to you to take all necessary measures to free environmental defender Evgeny G. Vitishko immediately and unconditionally; to initiate legal proceedings regarding the wrongful conviction of Evgeny Vitishko; hold those responsible for his conviction legally accountable; and clarify the withdrawal by the Office of Prosecutor General of the request to vacate the decision of the Tuapse city court of Krasnodar Krai from December 12, 2013 to revoke the suspended sentence and transfer Evgeny Vitishko to a penal settlement colony. We also ask you to investigate the facts of the violation of water and forest laws in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai).

We, the undersigned non-governmental not-for-profit organizations, work to protect and promote rights to freedom and to a healthy environment. We seek to uphold universal rights to freedom and a healthy environment and to protect men, women and children who defend these rights. Therefore, we are deeply concerned about the fate of Evgeny Vitishko, a member of Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus (Ecologicheskaya Vakhta po Severnomu Kavkazu) and a respected environmental defender.

Evgeny Vitishko, along with his fellow activist Suren Gazaryan, was convicted by the decision of the Tuapse district court on June 20, 2012 (case 1-75/12) of deliberately damaging a fence (part 2 article 167 of the Russian Criminal Code) in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai).

On December 20, 2013, the Tuapse city court decided to revoke Vitishko’s suspended sentence and transfer him to a penal settlement colony. Evgeny Vitishko is serving his sentence in settlement colony number 2 of the Tambov oblast.

We have been following the case of Evgeny Vitishko through reports issued by respected human rights and environmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus and Greenpeace Russia. These reports raise concerns regarding the merits of the case and procedural violations.

We find recent developments in Mr. Vitishko's case particularly troubling in light of the Russian Supreme Court's decision from October 21, 2013 (case 18-D13-114), which overruled a decision by a court of lower instance not to consider an appeal filed by Suren V. Gazaryan, who was convicted in the same sentence as Mr. Vitishko. In that decision, the Supreme Court noted that the Tuapse District court failed to properly identify the motive of the criminal act; that the court failed to consider the issue of legality of the agreement on construction of the fence. The Supreme Court also questioned the propriety of identifying the victim in the case. As stated by the Supreme Court, establishing those facts (victim, motive, and legality of the agreement) could affect the legitimacy and validity of the sentence. The Supreme Court concluded that “mentioned statutory requirements have not been met in full in this case.” This puts in question the legality and validity not only of the original verdict against Mr. Vitishko and Mr. Gazaryan, but also the revocation of the suspended sentence and imprisonment of Evgeny Vitishko in a penal settlement colony.

We also ask for an explanation of the reasons for the withdrawal by the Office of the Prosecutor General (from January 22, 2015, № 12/6877-12 ) of its request (from December 2, 2014, №12/6877-12 ) to repeal the decision of the Tuapse city court of Krasnodar Krai from December 12, 2013 to revoke a suspended sentence and transfer Evgeny Vitishko to a penal settlement colony.

In addition, we ask you to investigate violations of water and forest laws in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai) and hold offenders accountable. The matter concerns a fence that prevents Russian citizens from having open access to public forests and public water resources. Evgeny Vitishko and Suren Gazaryan were convicted for damaging the fence in question.

On May 27, 2011, activists of Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus conducted a public investigation of the residence in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai). During the inspection, it was revealed that the area of the public forest and public shore (5 hectares total) is fenced off by a continuous barrier (Addendum A). This barrier prevents Russian citizens from enjoying their right to have free access to forests (part 1 article 11 of the Forest Code of the Russian Federation) and public water resources (part 2 article 6 of the Water Code of the Russian Federation).

Members of Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus petitioned various control authorities numerous times; however, the violations were ignored. In particular, the prosecutor’s office of Krasnodar Krai responded to one of the petitions stating that there is no fence in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai. However, the fence was in fact constructed in Bzhid township, and it unduly impedes citizen access to forest and public water resources. While the prosecutor has denied the existence of the fence, Evgeny Vitishko and Suren Gazaryan were nevertheless imprisoned for damaging it. In particular, they were convicted for deliberately damaging the fence (part 2 article 167 of the Russian Criminal Code) in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai) by the decision of the Tuapse District court (Krasnodar Krai) from June 20, 2012 (case No. 1-75/12). The situation is thus blatantly absurd and unfair. In light of the impossibility of a conviction for damage to a physically nonexistent fence, we ask you to investigate the fact of construction of the illegal fence in Bzhid township (Tuapse District, Krasnodar Krai) and hold violators accountable, including those who installed the fence and those officers of the prosecutor’s office, who failed to discover the fence during the first inspection.

The illogical verdict against Mr. Vitishko for damaging a nonexistent fence, as well as procedural violations committed in Vitishko’s case, raise serious concerns regarding the legality and validity of Vitishko’s conviction. We call to your attention Article 42 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which guarantees everyone the right to a healthy environment, a right that Evgeny Vitishko sought to assert and protect through his participation in a peaceful civil demonstration.

We are deeply troubled by the evidence that he is being persecuted for his environmentalism.

Sincerely,

1. Kate Watters, Crude Accountability, USA

2. Yulia Genin, International Human Rights and Environmental Attorney and Advocate, USA

3. Robert W. Orttung, The George Washington, University, USA

4. Antonia Juhasz, Oil and Energy Analyst, Author and Journalist, USA

5. Stephanie Farrior, Professor of Law and Director, Center for Applied Human Rights,

Vermont Law School, USA

6. Ginger Cassady, Rain Forest Action Network, USA

7. Alban Muriqi, Kosova Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, Kosovo

8. Natalia Taubina, Public Verdict, Russia

9. Tom Evans, Tribal Liaizon Nanwalek Tribe, Alaska, USA

10. Edith Mirante, Project Maje, Portland, Oregon, USA

11. Bryan Parras, T.E.J.A.S., Houston TX, USA

12. Thomas Buonomo, USA

13. Oleg Gulak, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Belarus

14. Krassimir Kanev, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgaria

15. Lene Wetteland, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Norway

16. Brigitte Dufour, International Partnership for Human Rights, Belgium

17. Mariya Yasenovska, Kharkiv Regional Foundation, “Public Alternative,” Ukraine

18. Elias Isaac, Open Society Foundation, Angola

19. Billy Kyte and Chris Moye, Global Witness, UK

20. Danuta Przywara, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland

21. Vadym Pyvovarov, Association UMDPL, Ukraine

22. Harry Hummel, Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Netherlands

23. Yuri Dzhibladze, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia

24. Daniil Meshcheryakov, Moscow Helsinki Committee, Russia

25. Anna Gerasimova, Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, Belarus

26. Avetik Ishkhanyan, The Helsinki Committee of Armenia, Armenia

27. Artur Sakunts, Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor, Armenia

28. Alex Postica, Promo LEX, Moldova

29. Yevgeniy Zhovtis, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, Kazakhstan

30. Alex Levinson, Pacific Environment, USA

31. Tolekan Ismailova, Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan,” Kyrgyzstan

32. Olexandra Matviichuk, Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine

33. Regine Richter, Urgewald, Germany

34. Olga Zakharova, Freedom Files, Russia

35. Doug Norlen, Friends of the Earth, USA

36. Dana Yermolyonok, Center for Introduction of New Environmentally Safe Technologies, Kazakhstan

37. Amanda Starbuck, Rainforest Action Network, USA

38. Sara Blackwell, International Human Rights and Environment Attorney and Advocate, USA

39. Rachel Idelevich, Advocate and Mediator

40. Tatiana Rodrigues Nascimento, The Nature Conservancy, USA

41. Center for International Environmental Law, USA

42. Tatiana R. Zaharchenko, Environmental Law Institute, USA

43. Maria Rusina, International Socio-Ecological Union

44. Evgenia Kulakova, Research and Information Center Memorial, St. Petersburg, Russia

45. James Boissonnault, Web Consultant, USA

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