Sergei Nikitin: “Free Vitishko!”

posted 9 Nov 2014, 01:25 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Nov 2014, 02:25 ]
By Sergei Nikitin

Source: Amnesty International

What does anyone who lives in Russia associate with the names ‘Tuapse’ and ‘Black Sea’? The sun, the heat, bathing in the sea – only positive things. On the whole, that is how it was. And for most people that is probably how it continues to be. But there are people who for some years now – ever louder and louder – have been trying to get their voices heard, who try to get through to the authorities, to all potential and actual holidaymakers, to the local residents: if we go on living like this, then the names ‘Tuapse’ and ‘Black Sea’ will come to have strong negative associations. If we continue to damage nature, then the next generation will associate these place names exclusively with oil leaks, with the barbaric extraction of gravel, with the terminal for the transport of mineral fertilisers.

In Krasnodar region the environmental organization North Caucasus Environmental Watch has been set up by a group of friends and like-minded people. Environmental Watch does not want to see the terms ‘Krasnodar region’ and ‘destroyed environment’ becoming synonyms.

Environmental Watch is headed by a council that consists of a number of people. The list of members of this council is quietly becoming a list of those who have been forced to leave the country. And one of the members of the council is serving time in prison.

The person in prison is Zhenya Vitishko, a geologist from Tuapse. He is someone with a wonderful and beautiful smile who has devoted himself to noble work – to make sure that Tuapse and the sea around it remain unpolluted and a joy for all of us.

The long history of harassment of Evgeny Vitishko by law enforcement finally ended with him being given a suspended sentence. By decision of Tuapse town court, last December this suspended sentence was transformed into a three-year prison term, to be served in a settlement penal colony, for ‘systematic violation of the probationary regime.’

Amnesty International recognizes Zhenya Vitishko as a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

The Tuapse environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko has been sent to serve his term in Tambov region, to an institution with the terrifying name “FFI SC-2” (Federally-Funded Institution Settlement Colony-2), and with the romantic and ecologically-sound address of “Garden Settlement, Green Street.” There, in house No. 11, Zhenya was installed to serve out his sentence.

However this proved not to be enough for the penitentiary authorities. At the beginning of October it was reported that for three wholly mythical violations of regulations, they wanted to transfer Evgeny Vitishko to an ordinary-regime penal colony.

That was when Amnesty International together with Greenpeace Russia began a joint campaign Free Vitishko! in the framework of a week of solidarity with Russian civil society.

The idea was simple – send in your photographs of nature, adding words of support for Zhenya, and we would print them out and send them all to Garden Settlement, Green Street.

And we began to receive a flood of beautiful nature photos with words of solidarity — from a great many people all over the world. To every photograph the hashtag #FreeVitishko was added, and the photographs were printed out to be sent by post.

The call to free Vitishko began to sound louder and louder. It crossed boundaries. Social networks took up the call. People were moved and spoke out.

And, as has often happened in the history of Amnesty International, the campaign was a success. Even though a partial one. Evgeny Vitishko remains in the penal settlement.

And we continue to print out the photos and get them ready for dispatch. The campaign has not yet ended, a few days are left. People can do more than just clicking ‘like’ to support this extraordinary person with a photo-postcard.

There is one cause for concern, however. The Bolotnaya prisoners have told us that the prison censor did not allow through letters of solidarity and support sent to them from abroad on the grounds that these letters were not written in Russian. I would not be surprised if the Tambov censor were to stop the photos from getting through to Evgeny because of the foreign-language hashtag #FreeVitishko.

But this won’t stop us. As someone else who also came from the south of Russia said, ‘One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.’