All 30 of the activists arrested during a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling have now been charged with piracy by the Russian authorities, and could now be jailed for up to 15 years.
The Russian coastguard boarded the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise after two of the activists attempted to climb aboard the Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Pechora Sea. The ship was towed to Murmansk where the group have been detained. All have now been accused of “piracy as part of an organised group.”
Greenpeace UK is to hold a protest at the Russian Embassy in London on Saturday, in support of the six British nationals among the accused. The freelance videographer Kieron Bryan is among them, and his parents told the Guardian they were “extremely worried” about their son. So far, Greenpeace say that over 1,000 people have pledged to attend the demonstration.
The charges have been made despite Russian president Vladimir Putin saying that the activists were clearly “not pirates”, and Vladimir Lukin, Putin’s human rights ombudsman, arguing there was “absolutely no basis” for the piracy charges.
Executive director of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo said that seemingly the activists’ only crime was to possess a conscience.
“This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest”, he said.
“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.”
Naidoo called it “the most serious threat to Greenpeace’s peaceful environmental activism” since the death of Fernando Pereira during the protests against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific.
The activists were protesting against drilling for oil in the Arctic. Ben Ayliffe, head of Greenpeace International’s Arctic oil campaign said, “Drilling for oil here in the Arctic is a grave environmental risk that must be stopped and this is why Greenpeace International came here, taking peaceful action to defend the environment on behalf of the millions of people around the world who are opposed to drilling operations.”
The Prirazlomnaya rig will be Russia’s first offshore drilling project in the Arctic. It is due to become operational in early 2014.