Prosecuting authorities in Russia were under fire today after it was revealed that they have failed to lift charges of piracy against the Arctic 30, despite pledging to do so.
Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee announced last week that the piracy charges – which carry a 15-year jail sentence – would be replaced with charges of hooliganism. But when the thirty detainees were brought before the Committee over the course of this week, the piracy charge was not withdrawn. Instead each of them was simply served with the additional charge of hooliganism.
They now stand accused of both offences, which carry a maximum sentence of 15 and 7 years, respectively.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said:
“As things stand the Russian authorities propose to jail thirty men and women for maybe twenty years because two peaceful protesters tried to hang a small yellow banner from the side of a five hundred thousand tonne oil platform. First this saga shocked people across the world, now it has descended into farce. Those campaigners were willing to risk their liberty to shine a light on dangerous Arctic oil drilling, but the authorities’ reaction has been wildly disproportionate. The legal hammer now being wielded against them says so much more about those who have brought these charges than it does about the prisoners. They are neither pirates nor hooligans, they are simply people possessed of a conscience who care about our common future and they should be released immediately.”
Once the charge of piracy is withdrawn, by law the detainees should be immediately released. This is because international law prohibits one country from seizing another country's vessels in international waters, except in the most extreme cases, such as piracy. Allowing states to seize each other's vessels for lesser trumped up charges would be a major threat to international relations and commerce.
On Wednesday next week the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) will hear the case brought by the Netherlands demanding the release of the 30 and the return of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. The Netherlands hold the boarding and subsequent detention to be illegal. Greenpeace International has submitted an Amicus Curiae brief in support of the Dutch request (1). President Putin and the Investigative Committee have both publicly admitted that this is not a case of piracy, which begs the question whether maintaining the piracy charge is just a ruse to avoid the prisoners’ inevitable release.
The authorities clearly stated to the world’s media that the absurd charge of piracy would be withdrawn, but they have not been true to their word.
The 28 Greenpeace International activists, freelance photographer and videographer, were charged with piracy by the Investigative Committee following a peaceful protest against Arctic oil drilling at a Gazprom oil platform in the Pechora Sea. The Murmansk Leninsky District Court ordered that the ‘Arctic 30’ could be detained up until at least November 24th whilst allegations against them are investigated by the country’s authorities. Lawyers acting for the thirty appealed against their detention, but their appeals were refused.
Since the Arctic Sunrise was seized seven weeks ago, there has been an outpouring of support from across the world for the Arctic 30. World leaders including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commissioner Janez Potočnik have expressed their concern for the fate of the Arctic 30, while 11 Nobel Peace Prize winners including Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to President Putin urging him to do everything in his power to ensure the charges are dropped.
To date, over 1,850,000 people have sent letters and emails calling for the release of the Arctic 30, and banners have been hung from Mount Everest to the Eiffel Tower. On October 18 nearly 10,000 people took to the streets at more than 100 events in 36 countries to mark the 30th day of injustice.