Multiple Greenpeace Activists Face Piracy Charges In Russia
April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A demonstration last month against Arctic oil drilling has turned into an international incident this week. Russia has started charging 30 Greenpeace activists from 18 countries with piracy, a charge that could bring long prison terms for a protest in a region the Kremlin sees as a key to future prosperity.
The activists were arrested on September 18, after two tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya oil platform, which plays a crucial role in Russia’s effort to mine Arctic resources, supposedly to hang a banner protesting Arctic drilling.
According to Greenpeace, 14 people had been officially charged with piracy by Wednesday evening — including activists and icebreaking ship crew from Argentina, Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Ukraine, as well as a dual US-Swedish citizen and a British videographer who documented the protest.
The piracy charge carries a 15 year jail term and $15,000 fine.
“It is an extreme and disproportionate charge,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo. “A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience. This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest.”
In contrast, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said concern for the environment did not justify breaking the law.
“Concern for the environment must not be a cloak for illegal actions, no matter how high-minded the principles motivating participants,” he said at a meeting on offshore oil extraction in the Caspian Sea in the southern city of Astrakhan.
During proceedings Wednesday, all 30 people who had been aboard Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise were ordered to be held in custody for two months pending further investigation by a court in the northern city of Murmansk, a port city north of the Arctic circle.
So far, 14 of the 30 have been formally charged, among them a UK journalist, Kieron Bryan. The Telegraph reports Bryan was working as a freelance videographer on the MV Arctic Sunrise when it was boarded and confiscated by the Russian coastguard last month. Bryan was among the first to be charged.
Mr. Bryan’s brother Russell pleaded for his release, telling Sky News, “Kieron is calm and sensible but at the moment he is in a situation which he has no control over. None of us here has any control over it either and we’re very scared and deeply worried. We just want him home.”
“We hoped to the last that common sense would prevail, and Russian authorities would not resort to such absurd actions but they proved us wrong,” Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace Arctic, told The LA Times. “Piracy means seizing someone’s property through a threat or an act of violence and a motive of making illegal profits from it, none of which can be applied to our activists who were engaged in a peaceful protest against the harmful exploration of the Arctic.”
The Investigative Committee in Moscow said the protesters resisted coast guard officials and endangered the security of workers and property at the oil rig, saying that there were company divers working underwater near the platform at the time of the protest.
Valery Borshchev, a prominent rights activist, said the decision to press such serious charges indicates that hard-liners are getting an upper hand in the ongoing clash of Kremlin clans.
“Thus the Kremlin continues to demonstrate its adherence to the tactics of sheer intimidation toward its opponents and anyone who dares to criticize its policies,” Borshchev, an advisor to the Presidential Human Rights Envoy, said. “If such intimidation actions have hitherto been limited to critics at home resulting in investigations of opposition activists, the trials and convictions of the Pussy Riot band and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, now they demonstrate they are not shy to intimidate foreigners either.”