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Russia Charges Greenpeace Activists With Piracy Over Protest

Greenpeace Activists Protest
Greenpeace activists protest in front of the Russian embassy in Paris calling for the release of activists from several countries arrested while boarding an oil platform to protest Arctic drilling, September 27, 2013. Photographer: Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Russia charged 14 Greenpeace activists with piracy over the boarding of an oil platform to protest Arctic drilling in what the group described as its worst crisis since the 1985 bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.

The 14 campaigners, who include citizens of the U.K., U.S., Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, Finland and Russia, are among 30 Greenpeace activists who were detained last month over the incident, the organization’s press service said in a text message today. They’re under investigation for piracy, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

“This is now the most serious threat to Greenpeace’s peaceful environmental activism since agents of the French secret service bombed the Rainbow Warrior” during an attempted protest over France’s nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific, the organization’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, said by e-mail. The 30 activists “could now face the prospect of long periods in a Russian jail.”

Investigators opened a criminal case last week against the campaigners from 18 countries for piracy and remanded them in custody for two months in the port city of Murmansk. The Investigative Committee will make an announcement once charges are filed against all 30 activists, according to the office of the law-enforcement agency’s spokesman, Vladimir Markin.

Gazprom Rig

Greenpeace protesters scaled an OAO Gazprom rig in the Pechora Sea on Sept. 18. The state-owned company has accused the environmental organization of endangering the lives of workers on the rig who were underwater at the time of the protest.

Russia’s Coast Guard boarded Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship in international waters on Sept. 19, a day after two protesters scaled the rig, and towed the vessel to Murmansk. Gazprom plans to become the first Russian company to start producing oil in Arctic waters at the Prirazlomnoye deposit as soon as this year. Greenpeace activists scaled the same drilling platform in 2012.

Protesters today occupied gasoline stations in Germany operated by Gazprom, according to the Twitter Inc. account of Grennpeace’s Russian branch. The group staged demonstrations last week outside Russian diplomatic missions and offices of Gazprom in 38 locations in 30 countries, including the U.S., Brazil, France and the U.K.

The detained activists include citizens of the U.S., Finland, Argentina, Switzerland, the U.K., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Poland and Sweden, according to Greenpeace.

‘Unlawful Acts’

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev today called for tougher penalties for illegal incursions into oil and gas facilities.

“Concern for the environment shouldn’t lead to unlawful acts,” he said at a meeting in the Astrakhan region.

President Vladimir Putin said Sept. 25 that while the Greenpeace campaigners “clearly” aren’t pirates, they violated international law by trying to seize the platform.

The Russian leader has come under increasing criticism in Europe and the U.S for a crackdown on civil society since he won a third Kremlin term last year.

The captain of the Arctic Sunrise, American Peter Wilcox, was in charge of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior in 1985, when agents from France’s DGSE intelligence service planted a bomb on the ship in the port of Auckland to prevent it from sailing toward a nuclear-testing site. A photographer for the environmental organization died in the explosion that sank the vessel.

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