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Russia: Drop Piracy Charges against Greenpeace

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 30 September 2013
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Russia: Drop Piracy Charges against Greenpeace, 30 September 2013, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Russian authorities should immediately release from custody all 30 people arrested in connection with a Greenpeace protest in the Barents Sea.

On September 26, 2013, a court in Murmansk, 1,485 kilometers north of Moscow, sent 22 of those arrested to pretrial custody for two months pending an investigation into a piracy charge against them. On September 29, authorities ordered two months of pretrial custody for the remaining eight activists on the same charge.

"The Russian authorities are using a bogus charge to justify keeping the Greenpeace activists locked up for two months," said Tanya Cooper, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Accusing the activists of piracy is a grotesque distortion of the law that appears to be aimed more at intimidating Greenpeace than upholding law and order."

On September 18, Greenpeace, the international environmental group, organized a protest in the Barents Sea against oil drilling in the Arctic, which they believe would endanger the region's wildlife. A Greenpeace spokesperson told Human Rights Watch that Russian security forces detained two activists as they attempted to climb onto the outer structures of the Prirazmolnaya oil drilling platform, owned by the Russian state company Gazprom.

On September 19, the coastal guard of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) detained the remaining 28 Greenpeace activists and crew on board their ship, Arctic Sunrise. The people Russia detained include citizens of 18 countries, including four Russian nationals. Among them are activists, ship personnel, cooks, a doctor, and a Russian photographer and a British videographer who were documenting the protest.

In statements issued on September 26 and 27, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, Dunja Mijatović, urged the Russian authorities to release the photographer and the videographer. She saidit was "not acceptable to imprison journalists for doing their work."

Russia's investigative committee released a statement on September 24, announcing that a preliminary investigation had been opened into an "assault at Prirazmolnaya oil rig," describing the activists' actions as "piracy, committed by an organized group." Under Russian law, the crime of piracy, which involves using violence and raiding a sea vessel to achieve personal gain, carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. The investigative committee indicated that the two activists "tried to board [the platform] illegally" and "ignored warnings" and lawful demands by FSB personnel. Such actions are typically treated as administrative offenses in Russia and would not result in pretrial detention.

Greenpeace staff in Moscow told Human Rights Watch that Russian security officials threatened the activists with violence and shot multiple times into the air and water surrounding Greenpeace inflatable boats during the protest on September 18. The authorities should investigate those alleged threats and the use of firearms, Human Rights Watch said. The next day the security forces raided Arctic Sunrise, seized the remaining crew, and towed the ship to Murmansk.

Greenpeace staff told Human Rights Watch that during the four-day sea journey to Murmansk, Russian security officials did not allow activists to move freely around their ship. The officials also confiscated the activists' mobile phones, preventing them from calling the Greenpeace headquarters for legal counsel.

Greenpeace has protested oil drilling at Russian facilities in the Arctic sea on previous occasions without its personnel facing criminal prosecution. In August 2012 Russian authorities did not interfere with a similar Greenpeace protest when its activists boarded the Prirazmolnaya oil drilling platform. In August 2013 a Greenpeace ship spent two days following a vessel carrying out seismic oil exploration in the Barents Sea by another Russian state oil company, Rosneft.

"Both Russian and international law provides protections to protesters, whether on land or at sea," Cooper said. "Detaining these activists for piracy is a wildly disproportionate response to Greenpeace's protest."

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