The Arctic 30: Greenpeace activists

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The Arctic 30: activists in prison

by Lydia James


The Arctic Sunrise in Norway, before this. (Tom Phillips under a Creative Commons Licence)

The problems started on 18 September.

Thirty Greenpeace activists left the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, in the Pechora Sea at 2.34am. They were going to an oil platform (the “Prirazlomnaya”), to climb onto the outside of the rig to protest against drilling in the near future. This was part of a peaceful protest against the very big energy company Gazprom. This company owns the Prirazlomnaya, and they are about to drill for the first oil from the Arctic. They have just signed a very big agreement with Shell.

When they saw the activists in small boats, the Russian Coast Guard ship sent boats full of people wearing balaclavas (hats that cover their faces). They attacked the Greenpeace boats, threatened the activists with guns and knives and shot their automatic weapons.

The Coast Guard took two activists (who were on to the oil rig) onto their boat. The other activists returned to the Arctic Sunrise that was about 3 nautical miles away.

The next day, 19 September, the Russian Coast Guard illegally went onto the Arctic Sunrise, while the boat was in international waters. The people on the Arctic Sunrise were held under armed guard for five days while the ship was taken to Murmansk, in the Russian Arctic.

Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists, a photographer and a videographer went to court in Murmansk on 26 September. Most of them will stay in prison for two months, waiting for their trial, possibly for piracy. Greenpeace lawyers will try to protect them in prison – with the European Court of Human Rights.

Russian president Vladimir Putin said that he does not believe the activists are pirates. Under Russian law, piracy is when people intend to take a boat, the people on a boat, or goods. The maximum prison sentence for piracy is 15 years.

The Russian authorities said on 9 October that they might change the charge from piracy to having ‘narcotic substances’ (drugs) that they said they found on the boat. Greenpeace said that no-one is allowed to have any illegal drugs on its ships; the authorities must be talking about the medical supplies. Also, the Russians have now had control of the ship for weeks, so it would be unclear where any drugs came from.

On 9 October Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo wrote to President Putin. He offered to go to Moscow to meet him to try to get the 28 Greenpeace activists and the two journalists out of prison.

In the letter, Naidoo offered to move to Russia and guarantee the activists will behave well if they are let out of prison until the trial. He said that Greenpeace does not say that its activists are ‘above the law’ and that there was a similar protest last year ‘seen by the Russian coast guard. They said they would not do anything about it when Gazprom asked them to because they understood that there was no danger to people or property’.

The Greenpeace director also said of Putin that ‘you have said before that you admire groups like Greenpeace. If our friends are released from prison until the trial, I offer myself as security that the 28 Greenpeace International activists will stand trial to defend their peaceful protest according to the criminal code of Russia.’

'A day after the arrest of the activists, the UN gave its latest warning about climate change. This is a threat to all of us, to your country, my country and the world. The report, by our greatest scientists, says that we must not look for and burn more fossil fuels. That is why the protesters needed to do what they did. And they were peaceful and respectful of your country’.

There have been demonstrations around the world to show support for the activists, to ask for their release, to end to the repression of peaceful protest, and also to ask for a permanent ban on Arctic off-shore oil drilling. Greenpeace International is campaigning against the “Arctic oil rush”. Companies like Shell, BP, Exxon, Gazprom and Rosneft hope to get a lot of money from this. But it will be very bad for the Arctic environment. Humanity must not burn more oil.

Sign the Greenpeace petition to ask for the release of the Arctic 30 and a permanent ban on off-shore drilling in the Arctic:

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