Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists and a freelance video journalist and a photographer were formally charged with piracy under Article 227 of the Russian Criminal Code on October 2 and 3, 2013. The maximum sentence, if convicted, is 15 years in a Russian jail.
The 28 Greenpeace activists and the two journalists, now known as the Arctic 30, protested against oil drilling in the Arctic on September 18, 2013 in Russia’s Pechora Sea. Two Greenpeace International activists attempted to climb the side of an oil platform operated by Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom to hang a banner, when they were stopped at gunpoint by the Russian Coast Guard. The activists were protesting against Gazprom becoming the first company to produce oil from the fragile Arctic region. Subsequently, all 28 activists and the two journalists were arrested by the Russian authorities and they have all now been charged with piracy.
Greenpeace International Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo says, “Our activists have been charged with a crime that did not happen, they are accused of an imaginary offence. There can be no doubt about why the charge of piracy has been brought and the legal hammer wielded. This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. An effort is underway to intimidate us, but our peaceful passionate campaign against Gazprom and all other Arctic drillers will not be silenced. A profound injustice is right now being perpetrated against our friends, our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters who sit in jail. I call on people across the world to stand with us against Gazprom and all oil companies who want to drill in the Arctic, join us in this fight against bullies of the very worst kind.”
Greenpeace strongly rejects this extreme and disproportionate charge of piracy against its activists and the journalists. The organisation has been protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic because it destroys people’s livelihoods and the wildlife such as polar bears, narwhals, walruses and other species in this pristine region. The Arctic ice is melting rapidly due to climate change, caused by burning fossil fuels in the first place and it is absurd to drill for more oil here and risk an oil spill that can devastate the entire region.
Currently, over 60 different NGOs have issued statements of concern and support for the Arctic 30, while almost 10,00,000 people have written letters to Russian Embassies worldwide demanding their release. On Saturday October 5th, tens of thousands of people will take part in a global day of solidarity with the Arctic 30. Peaceful events are planned on every continent in well over 80 cities in 50 countries. In India, protests are planned in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Here is the sequence of events leading to peaceful activists being charged with piracy by the Russian authorities.
1. On September 18, four inflatable boats left the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise heading to the Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom's oil platform. Two activists attempted to climb the side of the platform to hang a banner protesting oil drilling in the Arctic.
2. Russian Coast Guards quickly reached the oil platform to stop the peaceful protest. The officers used disproportionate force threatening the activists. Here a Russian Coast guard officer is seen pointing a gun at a Greenpeace International activist.
3. The Coast Guards, wearing masks, also used knives to threaten the peaceful activists. They rammed the Greenpeace boats while firing warning shots from their automatic weapons at the two activists who had climbed onto the oil platform. They later detained the two activists and took them on board the Coast Guard vessel. The remaining activists returned to the Arctic Sunrise. (Youtube video)
4. The crew of the Arctic Sunrise reported that a total of 11 warning shots were fired across the ship’s bow by the Coast Guard vessel and they threatened to fire at the ship itself if it does not leave the area immediately.
5. On the next day, the Arctic Sunrise was boarded by Russian Special Forces from helicopters outside Russian territorial waters and it was towed to Murmansk port by the Russian Coast Guard vessel. The ship is currently being held outside the port city of Murmansk.
6. Meanwhile, the 28 activists and a freelance photographer and videographer were in the custody of the Russian authorities while they considered levelling piracy charges against all 30 of them.
7. Currently all 30 have been have been formally charged with piracy with a possible prison sentence of 15 years. According to media reports, President Vladimir Putin himself admitted that the Greenpeace activists are obviously not pirates.
8. Greenpeace offices worldwide began protesting immediately against the Russian authorities stifling a peaceful protest against Arctic destruction. Greenpeace USA was the first to protest and here activists can be seen standing outside the Russian ambassador's residence in Washington in solidarity with the Arctic 30.
9. Here Greenpeace activists protest outside the Russian embassy in Paris. Activists in over 30 countries have been protesting against Russia arresting the activists.
10. Activists even protested outside the Gazprom headquarters in Moscow.
11. In India on September 20, Greenpeace activists in Delhi protested outside the Russian embassy and delivered a letter to the Russian Ambassador asking him to put pressure on the Russian authorities to investigate the arrests and to free the activists.
12. On September 28 in Mumbai, Greenpeace activists carried out a peaceful vigil outside the Russian Consulate in solidarity with the arrested activists in Russia. They held placards saying ‘Russia, free our activists’. Police forces in Mumbai took all 16 activists to the police station and detained them for two hours.
13. The health and safety of the Arctic is important for us all because the ice at the top of the world reflects much of the sun’s heat back into space, helping to keep our whole planet cool and allowing us to grow our food, support our families and ecosystems to thrive. To support the Arctic 30 who were trying to protect the Arctic from oil giants, you can send a letter to the Russian Ambassador in India here.
By arrangement with Greenpeace India