Staunton, July 11 – A Russian court announced yesterday that it would decide on July 31 about the possible release of Yevgeny Vitishko from prison camp, an announcement that has given rise to cautious optimism among his colleagues at the Ecological Watch on the North Caucasus.
The Kirsanov district court in Tambov made its decision after lawyers for Vitishko applied with letters of support from the Ecological Watch, the World Wildlife Foundation of Russia, the Bellona Environmental Defense Center, and Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov (bellona.ru/articles_ru/articles_2015/1436536633.6).
The same court on April 15 had rejected an application by Vitishko’s attorneys for his release, but now, a provision of the criminal code which allows the release of those in prison after a third of their sentences on the basis of a pledge not to change their place of residence without permission and to be at home at night could apply.
One of the reasons the court may have taken a more lenient position yesterday was that the head of the prison camp where Vitishko is confined told the court that the violations of camp discipline the ecologist is charged with may have been the result of “inattention” and were in any case “not all that serious.”
Vitishko, it will be recalled, was given a suspended sentence of three years for his exposure of official malfeasance in the run-up to the Sochi Olympiad. That did not deter him from continuing his activities, and on the eve of the Games, his conditional sentence was replaed with a real one.
Since that time, he has been active in defending the rights of prisoners, but in May, he told visitors that he was not sure he could stand another year in the camps. His colleague, Suren Gazaryan, was forced to flee when new charges were brought against him. In 2013, the EWNC activist was given political asylum in Estonia.