Greenpeace urges Russia to free activists after piracy charge lifted

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 9:33pm

Greenpeace on Thursday urged Russia to release its crew members after investigators reduced the charge against them from piracy to hooliganism over their protest on an Arctic oil platform.

“Our general position has not changed: the investigation must wind up this laughable case, apologise and set them all free,” Greenpeace lawyer Anton Beneslavsky said.

Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, late on Wednesday announced it was softening the charge against the 30 crew members.

The maximum punishment for piracy in an organised group is 15 years while hooliganism can carry a sentence of seven years.

The piracy charges against the crew members from 18 different countries on a Dutch-flagged ship prompted international protests and pushed the Netherlands to launch legal proceedings against Russia.

Russia said on Wednesday it would boycott maritime court hearings sought by the Netherlands seeking the release of the crew and the ship.

Greenpeace lawyer Beneslavsky said the hearings before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea would be unaffected by the change of charge.

“The basis for proceedings at the international tribunal is the seizure of the ship by Russia. How the side that seized the ship justifies its actions does not influence the jurisdiction of this case.”

The new charge of hooliganism is the same used against the Pussy Riot punks for their protest performance against President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow church which landed two band members in prison for two years.

“The Greenpeace action in the Arctic has been equated with the Pussy Riot in the Church of Christ the Saviour,” rights lawyer Pavel Chikov wrote on Twitter.

The crew members, including two journalists, have been detained behind bars in the northern Murmansk region after two activists scaled a state-owned oil platform to protest against Russia’s energy prospecting in the Arctic.

Greenpeace representatives and political commentators believe investigators moved to cancel a clearly excessive charge after President Vladimir Putin said that the activists were “obviously not pirates”.