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February 17, 2014

Environmental Activist Detained in Sochi

by VOA News

Russian police detained an activist holding a one-man protest Monday outside the city offices in Sochi, the site of the Winter Olympics.

David Khakim was protesting the three-year prison sentence handed down last week to environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko for an incident dating back to 2012.  

Vitishko and a fellow activist were accused of spray painting insults on a fence around a property allegedly belonging to Krasnodar region Governor Alexander Tkachev. The graffiti, among other things, accused Tkachev of being "a thief."

Environmental activists say a mansion built in a protected forest surrounding Sochi belongs to Tkachev.

Khakim was detained for holding up a sign that read: "Freedom for Yevgeny Vitishko!  Environmental Prisoner." Police say he did not have permission to hold a public demonstration.

Protests are banned outside a specially designated zone during the Olympics in Sochi. A judge has ordered Khakim to do 30 hours of community service.

Vitishko and Khakim belong to the activist group Environmental Watch for the North Caucasus, which has highlighted what it says is the negative environmental impact of Sochi Olympics construction. Supporters charge their arrests were politically motivated.

The group said Monday that Vitishko began a hunger strike on February 12, the day he was sentenced to three years in prison. The London-based human rights group Amnest International has named him a "prisoner of conscience."

Meanwhile, an Italian gay rights activist said she was detained by police in Sochi after a holding up a banner that said "Gay is okay."

Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender activist and former member Communist member of Italy's parliament, said she was released without charge Sunday after being held for several hours.  Russian authorities say there is no record of Luxuria having been taken into custody.