Russia Court Keeps Greenpeace Activists Jailed on Lesser Charges

A Russian court denied bail to Greenpeace activists arrested for protesting against Arctic oil drilling even after prosecutors dropped a piracy case against them in favor of a lesser charge of hooliganism.

The court in the port city of Murmansk today extended the detention of Canadian Paul Ruzycki, Ukrainian Ruslan Yakushev and Brazilian Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel until Nov. 24, Greenpeace’s Russian branch said on its Twitter Inc. account. The investigators’ decision came after the court had refused bail to the 27 other people held over in the protest.

The judge said the decision of the Investigative Committee in Moscow to drop the more serious piracy charge hadn’t been officially communicated to the court, according to Greenpeace.

Russia has faced worldwide protests by the environmental group and a legal claim from the Netherlands since it detained 30 people for participating in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic drilling last month and charging them with piracy, which is punishable by as long as 15 years in prison. The new accusation carries a maximum sentence of seven years in jail, Greenpeace said yesterday by e-mail.

Investigators have left open the possibility of charging some of the activists for assaulting a law enforcement agent, according to the statement posted yesterday.

‘Fantasy Charges’

Two protesters scaled state-run OAO Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Pechora Sea on Sept. 18. A day later Russia’s Coast Guard boarded the group’s Arctic Sunrise ship in international waters and towed the vessel to Murmansk, where 28 activists as well as a photographer and videographer were detained and charged with piracy.

Greenpeace vowed to contest the new hooliganism charges.

The activists “are no more hooligans than they were pirates,” Greenpeace Russia’s Vladimir Chuprov said in yesterday’s statement. “We will contest the trumped up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations. They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to reality.”

On Oct. 1, activists delayed a Champions League soccer game between Basel and Germany’s Schalke 04, sponsored by Gazprom, unfurling a protest banner. Demonstrations were staged outside Russian diplomatic missions and Gazprom offices in 30 countries, including Brazil, France and the U.S.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that discussions about the ship had been held with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The Dutch government has begun international legal action to force the Russian authorities to release the Dutch-registered Greenpeace ship and the activists. The dispute and the arrest of a Russian diplomat in The Hague and beating of a Dutch diplomat in Moscow has cast a shadow over a planned Dutch royal visit to Russia next month.

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