This week, the 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists who were unlawfully detained in Russia following a peaceful protest at an arctic oil drilling rig were officially charged with piracy. They each face prison sentences of up to 15 years in Russia.
The activists, now known as the “Arctic 30,” need your help. To show your support, you can join Greenpeace and concerned citizens around the world in a global day of solidarity on Saturday, October 5. You can also send a letter to the Russian Embassy demanding their release.
The activists face charges after heading to the Barents Sea on September 19 to protest energy giant Gazprom. The energy company had plans to start oil production in an area with three nature reserves that are supposedly protected by Russia and to continue with oil exploration in partnership with Royal Dutch Shell in the future.
Following the protest, the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise was illegally boarded by the Russian Coast Guard, which took control of the ship and crew. The activists and freelance journalists, all from around the world, were sentenced to a two-month pre-trial detention in Murmansk pending a piracy investigation.
Now, they have been charged with piracy. Appeals against the refusal for bail have been filed, but no one is sure when the cases will be heard.
Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement:
There is absolutely no justification for any charge of piracy, or the decision to deny bail. Our peaceful activists and the two freelancers are being locked away for bringing international scrutiny to Gazprom’s risky Arctic drilling programme. This is a naked attempt to intimidate anyone who opposes the Arctic oil rush and it will not stand.
The captain of the Arctic Sunrise, Peter Wilcox, is a U.S. citizen, but the ship sails under a Dutch flag. Now the Dutch government is intervening in an effort to get both the ship and the activists released.
Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the BBC that the Netherlands had applied to the UN’s Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which resolves maritime disputes between states. He also said he didn’t understand how there could be legal grounds for this to be considered an act of piracy. President Vladimir Putin also stated that the activists “clearly” were not pirates.
Even more disturbing here is the fact that former Times of London journalist Kieron Bryan and former Reuters and AFP photographer Denis Sinyakov, who is based in Moscow, have had their equipment and passports seized, in addition to being detained and charged with piracy, despite only being there to do their jobs and document what happened.
Media outlets are protesting and blacking out photos in a show of solidarity, while Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council condemned the move and called the arrests and piracy charges “a direct violation of Russia’s law on mass media, which protects the rights of journalists, including freelancers, when they work in their professional capacity.”
The potential for a disastrous spill in the Arctic and allowing for drilling there should have the whole world concerned, especially considering Arctic sea ice is continuing to disappear. However, you don’t even need to necessarily care about the consequences of drilling to appreciate the gravity of the continued persecution of activists who take part in peaceful protests and acts of civil disobedience, while corporations are protected by governments and law enforcement agencies who act more like private security companies than agencies that are designed to protect the public and keep the peace.
Naidoo raises the question of where we would be today on so many issues and injustices humanity has faced ranging from slavery and women’s rights to apartheid if people hadn’t risked their lives and freedom to say enough is enough. If we lose our right to object and protest, to spread information, stay informed and keep the free market of ideas going, the real terrorists will have won.
Show your support for Greenpeace and the Artic 30 by joining the global day of action on Saturday, October 5. You can find your nearest event here.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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