Friday, December 11, 2015

Imprisoned Russian Environmental Activist May be Near Death

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 11 – Yevgeny Vistishko, an environmental activist who was put in prison by the Russian authorities for exposing the abuse of the environment by senior officials in the run up to the Sochi Olympiad, is now in failing health after having declared a hunger strike on November 23.

            Vitishko who was supposed to be released earlier this month but who has been kept in prison as the result of an intervention by prosecutors told his friends and supporters at the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus organization that he was in pain and suffering dizzy spells (

                The activist added that despite his failing health, the prison authorities have not allowed him to stop doing the physical labor required of inmates. Given his hunger strike, that is only making his situation even worse.  Vitishko is supposed to have his next court hearing on Western Christmas, December 25.

(For background on this high-profile case and Vitishko’s travails and activities while in prison, see “Russian Environmentalists ‘Who are Still Free’ Mobilize to Free Vitishko,” June 4, 2014, at

Tragically, the kind of abuse to which Vitishko has been subjected is no longer a rarity in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Each day in fact seems to bring fresh evidence that the Russian government is quite prepared to ignore the Russian constitution and Russian laws when it deals with anyone who challenges its illegal and corrupt actions.

And equally tragically, it has become obvious that even those Russians who are horrified by what their government is doing see fewer and fewer options available to them as they seek to defend the victims of official abuse. Instead – and this is a measure of how bad things now are – they are turning again to the kind of activism they engaged in in Soviet times.

Yesterday, in the restoration of a tradition many had hoped they would never need to bring back, approximately 40 human rights activists came to Moscow’s Pushkin Square as they did in the final years of Soviet times to call attention to the plight of political prisoners in Russia today (

The first such demonstration on Pushkin Square took place 50 years ago on December 5, then the Day of the Constitution of the USSR. Its participants demanded that the trial of Yuli Daniel and Andrey Sinyavsky be open. After 1977, the event was moved to December 10, International Human Rights Day. The last such Soviet-era assembly took place in 1987.

Unlike in Soviet times, the police did not interfere this year, but there are reports that the authorities plan to renovate the square, the kind of plausibly deniable excuse for blocking anything the Kremlin doesn’t like in the future.

The idea of reviving this tradition belongs to former Soviet dissident and human rights activist Aleksandr Podrabinek earlier this month.  He wrote that “today political prisons have again appeared in Russia ... there are dozens of them … It is time to renew the old tradition. The authorities don’t give us any other choice” (

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