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14 Greenpeace activists charged with piracy in Russia

The charges, linked to a protest at an oil platform in the Arctic, reflect the seriousness with which Russia regards any threat to its energy industry.

October 02, 2013|By Sergei L. Loiko
  • A member of the Russian security forces, second from right, stands on the deck of the Arctic Sunrise, Greenpeace's icebreaker, shortly after boarding the ship involved in a high seas protest against Arctic oil drilling in a photo taken with a camera phone off a computer screen.
A member of the Russian security forces, second from right, stands on the… (Greenpeace )

MOSCOW — Fourteen Greenpeace activists were charged with piracy Wednesday in connection with their protest at a Russian oil platform in the Arctic, an official of the environmental group said.

The charges, issued by prosecutors in Murmansk, carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and reflect the seriousness with which Russia regards any threat to its energy industry, the foundation of its economy. They also may hint at the ascendancy of hard-liners in President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, one analyst said.

Vladimir Chuprov, head of Greenpeace Arctic, said the 14 — who included activists from Finland, Britain, Brazil, the United States and Russia — were charged with organized group piracy.

"We hoped to the last that common sense would prevail, and Russian authorities would not resort to such absurd actions, but they proved us wrong," Chuprov said in a telephone interview. "Piracy means seizing someone's property through a threat or an act of violence and a motive of making illegal profits from it, none of which can be applied to our activists, who were engaged in a peaceful protest against the harmful exploration of the Arctic."

The 14 were among 30 activists and crew members aboard the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, which was seized by the Russian coast guard in a commando raid Sept. 19. Court proceedings for the remaining 16 people on board were expected to continue Thursday.

The raid came a day after some of the activists tried to climb the side of a Russian oil-drilling platform in the Barents Sea, reportedly to hang a banner protesting drilling in the Arctic.

The state Investigative Committee in Moscow said this week that the protesters had resisted coast guard officials and endangered the security of workers and property at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig, a major Arctic oil exploration project operated by a subsidiary of the state-controlled energy company Gazprom.

Oil and gas are central to the Russian economy and government budget. Their significance can be seen in Putin's appointments to run the key oil and gas companies: His longtime lieutenant in the Soviet KGB, Igor Sechin, heads the oil giant Rosneft, and a former colleague from municipal governance in St. Petersburg, Alexei Miller, heads Gazprom.

Putin aroused hope last week that the protesters would be treated leniently when he said they were "obviously not pirates."

The decision to press such serious charges "for at worst an administrative felony" indicates that hard-liners are getting an upper hand at the Kremlin, said Valery Borshchev, a prominent rights activist.

"Thus the Kremlin continues to demonstrate its adherence to the tactics of sheer intimidation of its opponents and anyone who dares to criticize its policies," said Borshchev, an advisor to the presidential human rights envoy.

"If such intimidation actions have hitherto been limited to critics at home, resulting in investigations of opposition activists, the trials and convictions of the Pussy Riot band and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, now they demonstrate they are not shy about intimidating foreigners also."

However, he said he doubted that the piracy charges would stand. He said they probably would be replaced by lesser charges.

Greenpeace will appeal the charges in Russian courts and, if necessary, in the European Court of Human Rights, Chuprov said.

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