Eleven Nobel Peace Prize laureates have written a letter to President Vladimir Putin calling for piracy charges against environmental activists to be dropped.
“We are writing to ask you to do all you can to ensure that the excessive charges of piracy against the 28 Greenpeace activists, freelance photographer and freelance videographer are dropped, and that any charges brought are consistent with international and Russian law,” laureates including South African archbishop Desmond Tutu and Northern Irish peace activists Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams said in the letter. They also urged Mr Putin to “rededicate efforts to protect the Arctic”.
The letter comes after Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, became the first head of state to raise the issue of the crew’s detention with Mr Putin, urging a speedy resolution of the case in a phone call on Wednesday.
British MPs will debate on 23 October the detention of the six Britons who had been members of the crew, and who are being held in Murmansk.
Armed officials detained the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and the 30 people on board last month after two activists attempted to hang a banner on a Russian oil rig in the Barents Sea.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week there should be a “greater international outcry” over the case. In early October, The Netherlands began legal proceedings against Russia to free the Dutch-registered Greenpeace vessel and its crew.
Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that although the President “pays a lot of attention” to the opinion of Nobel laureates, he is not the “correct recipient” for the letter, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Although Putin opponents have been punished this year in politicised trials, Mr Peskov has often maintained that the President has no say in state prosecutions. When the Investigative Committee brought the piracy charges after Mr Putin said the activists were obviously not pirates, Mr Peskov cited it as an example of the agency’s independence. The committee is subordinate to the President, and its head, Alexander Bastrykin, was a university classmate of Mr Putin.
The Murmansk Regional Court denied bail on Thursday to Australian radio operator Colin Keith Russell and Dutch engineer Mannes Ubels. The day before it had denied bail to four others, including British activist Anthony Perrett. Out of the six Britons in confinement, Philip Ball, Kieron Bryan, Frank Hewetson and Mr Perrett have been denied bail so far.
The families of the Britons met with Foreign Office officials on Wednesday, after which they called on Russia to free them as soon as possible.
Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox said the upcoming debate will put pressure on the British government and Kieron Bryan’s father, Andy, said he hopes it will push the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to take action on the case.
The Investigative Committee said last week that more charges would be brought against some of those detained after it claimed to have found illegal drugs on board the ship, allegations that Greenpeace denied.
VOICES OF REASON - THE 11 LAUREATES
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Peace Prize for apartheid fight
Founded Northern Ireland Peace Movement
Óscar Arias Sánchez
Former President of Costa Rica
Shared 1997 Nobel with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)
Central role in Liberian peace talks
Key figure in Arab Spring in Yemen.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Fought for rights for Maya peasants in Guatemala
Campaigned alongside co-prize winner Betty Williams
Iran’s first female judge, promotes democracy and human rights
Helped highlight abuses in East Timor
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
Championed rights in Argentina