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Greenpeace Activists Charged with Piracy in Russia for Protesting against Oil Drilling in the Arctic

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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.

Protests demanding the release of the Arctic 30The 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 Russia’s 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 it’s 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 people’s 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.

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