Sochi activist David Khakim detained for solo protest


Security officers watch guests across a fence in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.


Joe Scarnici

MOSCOW, Russia — Police in Sochi reportedly detained a lone demonstrator on Monday after he staged an unsanctioned protest.

David Khakim was detained after staging a one-man protest outside city hall in central Sochi against the recent jailing of a local environmental activist, according to local media reports.

Khakim's protest urged the authorities to free Yevgeny Vitishko, an activist who was sentenced to three years in prison last week for what supporters claim was his criticism of the environmental effects of Olympic construction in Sochi.

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Khakim’s lawyer told Radio Liberty his client was charged with an administrative offense.

Vitishko, the environmental activist, received jail time for allegedly spray-painting a fence around what was said to be the regional governor’s summer home.

A southern Russian court found last Wednesday that Vitishko had violated the terms of a recent suspended sentence he originally received for the alleged property damage.

But Vitishko’s supporters, including the Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC), a watchdog of which Vitishko is a member, allege the activist was jailed for his work highlighting the environmental damage wrought upon the area by Olympic construction.

After asking for an explanation from Russian authorities, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had been assured that Vitishko’s conviction was not related to his activism.

The EWNC later announced that Vitishko has gone on a huger strike in protest.

After President Vladimir Putin overturned an earlier ban on protests during the games, local authorities established a designated protest park under a highway overpass miles from any Olympic venue.

The park is located in a quiet suburb between central Sochi and Adler, the site of the Olympic Park where the iced-based games are held, and protest groups are required to secure permission beforehand.

Critics have slammed the move as an attempt to avoid any potential embarrassment amid a rush of foreign visitors to the city for the games.

Khakim — who did not use the designated protest park — appears to be only the second person to have staged a demonstration in Sochi since the Olympics began.

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Last week, a Putin supporter staged a sanctioned solo demonstration within the designated protest area. But she said she had been granted permission after applying to city hall.

Meanwhile, an Italian transgender gay rights campaigner claimed she was briefly detained on Sunday after protesting against Russia’s controversial ban on gay “propaganda.”

Vladimir Luxuria, a former parliamentarian in Italy, told news agencies she had been standing outside the Olympic Park holding a rainbow banner that read  “Gay is OK” when she was taken in by police.

She was later released. Local police have not commented on her alleged detention.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams later said his organization "hope[s] that the Games will not be used as a platform for demonstrations,” Reuters reported.

Russian officials have sought to put Russia’s best face forward during the $50 billion games, which were mired by critical press coverage but have so far appeared largely uncontroversial.

The country's anti-gay "propaganda" law stirred anger among the international community — some gay activist groups even called for a boycott of the games — but there have been few other signs of open discontent over the law in Sochi.