Greenpeace activists charged with piracy in Russia for protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic
Twenty eight Greenpeace activists and a freelance video journalist and a photographer were formally charged with piracy under Article 227 of the Russian Criminal Code on October 2nd and 3rd, 2013. The maximum sentence they face is 15 years in a Russian jail. They are currently being held in a number of prisons in and around the city of Murmansk in North West Russia while Greenpeace International lawyers have lodged formal appeals in the Murmansk court against their continued detention.
The 28 Greenpeace activists and the two
journalists, from the ship, Arctic Sunrise, now known as the Arctic 30, were
protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic on September 18, 2013 in Russias
Pechora Sea. Two Greenpeace International activists attempted to climb the side
of an oil platform operated by Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom when
they were stopped at gunpoint by the Russian Coast Guard. The activists were
protesting against Gazprom drilling for oil in the fragile Arctic region.
Subsequently, all 28 activists and the two freelance journalists were arrested
by the Russian authorities and they have all now been charged with piracy.
Greenpeace International Executive
Director, Kumi Naidoo said, Our activists have been charged with a crime that
did not happen, they are accused of an imaginary offence. There can be no doubt
about why the charge of piracy has been brought and the legal hammer wielded.
This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very
principle of peaceful protest. An effort is underway to intimidate us, but our
peaceful passionate campaign against Gazprom and all other Arctic drillers will
not be silenced. A profound injustice is right now being perpetrated against
our friends, our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters who sit in jail.
I call on people across the world to stand with us against Gazprom and all oil
companies who want to drill in the Arctic, join us in this fight against
bullies of the very worst kind.
Groups such as Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have called for the release of the
activists. Greenpeace has also released a letter written by Faiza Oulahsen, 26,
one of the Arctic 30, a Dutch environmentalist currently detained in Murmansk.
In the letter, penned shortly before she was charged on October 3, she says: I
have no idea how this is going to end, or how long its going to take. She
describes the experience of sitting through hearings in a cage and living in a
prison cell that is ice cold and where the lights are never turned off. I
started to lose the calmness and self-control I had been using the past couple
of days, slowly but surely. Two months in a cell is one thing, but what comes
after that? A sentence of a few months or a few years in a case based on lies?
Greenpeace strongly rejects this extreme
and disproportionate charge of piracy against its activists and the
journalists. The organisation has been protesting against oil drilling in the
Arctic because it destroys peoples livelihoods and wildlife such as polar
bears, narwhals, walrus and other species in this pristine region. The Arctic
ice is melting rapidly due to climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels
like oil; it is absurd to drill for more oil here risking an oil spill that can
cause huge devastation.
Currently, over 60 organisations have
issued statements of concern and support for the Arctic 30, while almost 10,00,000
people have written letters to Russian Embassies worldwide demanding their
release. On Saturday October 5th, thousands of people around the world will
take part in a global day of solidarity with the Arctic 30. Peaceful events are
planned on every continent in well over 80 cities in 50 countries. In India,
protests are planned in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore among other cities.