Environmental Watch on North Caucasus activists Suren Gazaryan and Evgeny Vitishko, who in May were convicted in a sham trial for hooliganism after writing on an illegal fence near Krasnodar region governor’s residence are under immense pressure from the authorities again, and could face a real jail term for their activism work.
Both activists are currently serving out their suspended sentences of three years, which severely limit their freedom due to travel restrictions and an established strict curfew. However authorities continue harassing Gazaryan and Vitishko in an attempt to force them to seize all protest activities and organizing work in their communities.
(For more information about the prosecution and trial, read: Environmental activists threatened with new criminal charges, Suren Gazaryan’s last word in court )
A second probe has been launched in August against Suren Gazaryan, after a security guard working at the premises believed to be Vladimir Putin’s luxury dacha falsely accused him of making a death threat. Investigators have so far rejected five witnesses who were with the activist at the time and saw that no such threat took place, nor could take place as all the guards at the premises are armed. In fact the guards were the ones making threats against the activists, forcing them to leave an area of the Black Sea shoreline that is legally public land and has no access restrictions.
(For more information about the new probe, read: Russian authorities launch new probe against environmental activist)
In late October, Gazaryan was told by investigators that he will soon be charged with the criminal offence of making a death threat, which can carry up to two years in prison. It also became known that three guards, who carried weapons, are now claiming to be threatened by the unarmed and outnumbered activist. Experience from the first trial against Gazaryan and Vitishko shows that logic, documentation, and witness accounts told by the defense side are summarily rejected, while the court sides with the absurd allegations by the prosecution. As the trial into the new sham charge would be held in Krasnodar region, the chances of a fair legal process are next to zero. A second conviction would effectively convert the suspended term of three years into a real prison sentence.
Evgeny Vitishko is also under immense pressure in his town Tuapse, where he is under constant surveillance. His curfew requires him to be at home from midnight to 6 a.m. every day, and a violation of the curfew may also result in the conversion of the suspended sentence to a real one. In recent weeks he received two warnings due to alleged curfew violation, when he was not home at midnight. One of these times he was returning from a protest against an oil refinery and the other he was preventing election violations in the election committee during the general elections on October 14. His curfew inspectors are now threatening to appeal to the court for his imprisonment.
We ask for everyone’s support of Suren Gazaryan and Evgeny Vitishko, whose persistent peaceful environmental activism is clearly so irritating to the Krasnodar region authorities that they are ready to throw them in jail for at least three years.
Courtesy of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC)