Greenpeace activists detained for 2 months in Arctic 'piracy' case

Twenty two people who were aboard Greenpeace’s ship Arctic Sunrise will spend two months in pre-trial detention, a Murmansk court ruled. The ship's crew faces charges of piracy for boarding an Arctic oil rig.

In addition, eight activists are to be held for three days ahead of a new hearing.

The 30 defendants in the dock include four Russians and foreigners from 19 countries, including the US and Canada.

A handout picture taken late on September 26, 2013, and provided by Greenpeace International shows Greenpeace International contracted freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov sitting in a defendant cage in a court in the northern Russian city of Murmansk. (AFP Photo / Igor Podgorny)

Roman Dolgov, an activist and spokesman for Greenpeace Russia, strongly rejected the charges leveled at him and the group.

“I believe the charge is unlawful and absolutely unfair. There was certainly no piracy involved,” Dolgov told prosecutors, adding that he is a marine pollution expert and had nothing to do with trying to take over the oil rig.  

Among the people detained is the Arctic Sunrise captain Pete Willcox, and Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov, who was contracted to document the environmental organization's activism. 

"The criminal activity I am blamed for is called journalism.I will keep doing it," said the photographer.

The judge ruled that the defendants posed a flight risk. 

A handout picture taken late on September 26, 2013, and provided by Greenpeace International shows Greenpeace International expert Roman Dolgov standing in a defendant cage in a court in the northern Russian city of Murmansk. (AFP Photo / Igor Podgorny)

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said the Arctic Sunrise crewmembers may have their pre-trial detention commuted to a period of restricted liberty, to be decided by the court.
 
“It is important to note that, after sentencing, and having established the levels of responsibility and involvement of each of the attackers, it is possible that the court will rule on changing the period of pre-trial detention to a milder one that may not involve incarceration,"
Markin said.

Greenpeace has strongly condemned the judge's ruling.

"The Russian government feels it can bully environmental activists without any fear of consequence," Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace's Executive Director posted on his Twitter feed.

"We call on people in Russia and around the world to stand with our activists and defend their right to peaceful protest."

The group has gathered over 500,000 signatures for an online petition to release the Arctic Sunrise crew.

Journalists are staging a demonstration in Moscow support of Sinyakov on Thursday afternoon, and on Friday two leading liberal Russian media outlets will use black screens instead of photos as a gesture of solidarity.

The Greenpeace ship approached the oil rig on Sept. 18, despite orders from the Russian Border Guard Service not to do so. Two Greenpeace activists scaled the rig and were preparing to stay there for several days.  
 
The next day Border Guard troops boarded both the rig and the activists’ ship, Arctic Sunrise, detaining all 30 people on board. They later towed the vessel to the Russian port of Murmansk.

A handout photo taken by Greenpeace on September 18, 2013, shows Greenpeace activists boarding Gazprom's 'Prirazlomnaya' Arctic oil platform somewhere off Russia north-eastern coast in the Pechora Sea. (AFP Photo / Denis Sinyakov)

The Greenpeace activists are currently facing piracy charges, Russia’s Investigative Committee announced Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared that the defendants were “obviously not pirates,” but added that technically the charge was valid, as they were trying to forcefully board and take over the rig, which is a violation of international law.