Yevgeny Vitishko
Yevgeny Vitishko, in happier days.
Oleg Kozirev / Human Rights Watch

An activist who coauthored a report cataloging the appalling environmental damage wreaked by Olympic construction will spend the next three years in a Russian penal colony.

Yevgeny Vitishko, a 40-year-old scientist, is ostensibly being punished for the crimes of spray-painting a fence and swearing in public. Vitishko was among seven members of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus detained on the eve of the Olympics. An appeal of the decision to jail him for three years was rejected during a hearing that he couldn’t attend this week because he was imprisoned.

“The case against Vitishko has been politically motivated from the start,” said Yulia Gorbunova, a Human Rights Watch official in Russia. “When the authorities continued to harass him it became clear they were trying to silence and exact retribution against certain persistent critics of the preparations for the Olympics.”

IOC officials on Thursday sought “clarification” from Russian authorities on Vitishko’s incarceration. “We have raised this case in the past,” an IOC spokesman said.

As members of Pussy Riot recently learned, life in a Russian penal colony means being enslaved in inhumane conditions and forced to work. Nearly 600,000 people are serving sentences in such facilities.