The Russian state prosecutor laid charges of piracy against a Greenpeace activist who protested against oil drilling in the Arctic. A freelance videographer has also been charged with piracy, which carries a maximum 15 year jail sentence. It is an extreme and disproportionate charge. Charges are expected to be brought against other Greenpeace campaigners over the coming hours and days.
Responding to the news, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said:
“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. Any claim that these activists are pirates is as absurd as it is abominable. It is utterly irrational, it is designed to intimidate and silence us, but we will not be cowed.
“This is now the most serious threat to Greenpeace’s peaceful environmental activism since agents of the French secret service bombed the Rainbow Warrior and killed our colleague Fernando Pereira because we stood against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. Three decades later the activists of the Arctic Sunrise also took a stand, this time against the powerful vested interests of the oil industry, and they could now face the prospect of long periods in a Russian jail. I call on people from across the world, anybody who ever raised their voice in support of something they believe in, and especially the good people of Russia, to come to their aid at this moment and join us in demanding the release of the Arctic 30.
“The courageous crew of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise protested at that Gazprom rig because they felt compelled to bear witness to the slow but unrelenting destruction of the Arctic. The ice is retreating, oil companies are moving north to drill for the fuels that are driving that melting, species are at risk, including our own. Thirty men and women, some young, others not-so-young, all with a moral compass, actually did something about it. Just as in years past, the resolve and courage required to win a better future for our children requires personal sacrifice, a sacrifice the Arctic 30 are now making. They made their stand in the interests of us all. Now we must come together and stand with them.”
The charge has so far been laid against crew member Ana Paula Alminhana from Brazil, and freelance videographer Kieron Bryan from the UK.
The 28 activists, a freelance photographer and the freelance videographer, were involved in a protest against the Gazprom Arctic drilling platform Prirazlomnaya on September 18th. Two activists tried to climb the side of the platform and hang a banner. Today Greenpeace is releasing photographs of the moment Russian security services abseiled from a helicopter onto the deck of the Arctic Sunrise and seized the ship at gunpoint. The photographs clearly show peaceful activists posing no threat to the Russian authorities.
“I ask people to look at those photographs and decide if the peaceful campaigners with their arms raised, with guns pointed at their chests, could ever be described as pirates,” said Kumi Naidoo.
Last week President Putin himself scoffed at the notion that the Greenpeace protesters were pirates. He said that "It is absolutely evident that they are, of course, not pirates."
The number of people worldwide who have written to Russian embassies demanding the release of the activists and freelancers today passed one million. Others calling for the release of the Arctic 30 include Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the actor Ewan McGregor.
The Captain of the Arctic Sunrise, Peter Willcox - now in a Russian jail - was the Captain of the Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed in 1985.