NEW YORK, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The International Olympic Committee should urge the freeing of environmental activist Evgeni Vitishko, an international human rights group said Wednesday.
The Human Rights Watch, based in New York City, called on Olympics leaders in a statement Wednesday to pressure Russia to free Vitishko, whose three-year sentence in a penal colony was upheld Wednesday by an appeals court in Krasnodar, Russia, 170 kilometers (105 miles) northwest of Sochi, site of the Winter Olympics.
Vitishko, a geologist, was convicted in 2012 of causing damage to property in spray-painting graffiti on a fence surrounding construction of a summer home under construction for a Krasnodar regional governor, the Human Rights Watch statement said Wednesday.
"The case against Vitishko has been politically motivated from the start. When the authorities continued to harass him it became clear they were trying to silence and extract certain retribution against certain persistent critics of the preparations for the Olympics," said Yulia Gorbunova, Human Rights Watch Russia researcher.