We, the undersigned non-governmental not-for-profit organizations, work to protect and promote universal rights to freedom and to a healthy environment and to protect individuals 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.
On 15 April 2015, the Kirsanovsky District Court in Tambov Region rejected Evgeny Vitishko’s request for parole. At the hearing, the administration of the penal colony insisted that Evgeny Vitishko could not be released on parole as he had received a number of reprimands. The reprimands included giving one of his personal clothing items to another prisoner who did not have warm clothes and was cold; sitting on his bed at an unauthorized time; sleeping at an unauthorized time in an isolation cell; storing food in an unauthorized place; receiving correspondence from his lawyer without notification of the penal colony administration; and “a negligent attitude towards weeding tomatoes.” In reply to this, Evgeny Vitishko described violations committed by the penal colony administration, including the unlawful use of restraint equipment against prisoners.
At the court hearing, the prosecutor supported the penal colony administration’s position not to grant Evgeny Vitishko parole because he had not “admitted his guilt” and if released he would “continue doing what he was doing.” Evgeny Vitishko’s defense team pointed out that by law, parole is not conditional on admission of guilt. The court however took the prosecution and the penal colony administration’s side and ruled that Evgeny Vitishko must continue serving his sentence. His defense team plans to appeal the decision.
On 6 April 2015, Evgeny Vitishko was informed that the Russian Federation Supreme Court had rejected his appeal regarding his custodial sentence. Therefore, parole remains the only hope for Vitishko’s release.
In view of the information described above, we:
• ask Russian competent authorities to release Evgeny Vitishko immediately and unconditionally as he is a prisoner of conscience who is imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
• express our deep concern that the formal reprimands issued on insubstantial grounds are a form of harassment of Evgeny Vitishko and demand that this harassment stop immediately.