Russian court denies bail to British Greenpeace oil rig protesters

Judges order activists accused of piracy be put in pre-trial detention for two months

Judges in Russia have denied bail to several Greenpeace activists accused of piracy after an arctic drilling protest, including UK citizens, ordering them to be placed in pre-trial detention for two months.

Communications officer Alexandra Hazel Harris, who was brought up in Winkleigh, Devon, and activist Phil Ball, of Chipping Norton, were placed in pre-trial detention for two months. British activist Frank Hewetson of London was detained until a new hearing in three days, according to the Greenpeace.

Russian coastguards seized the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and its 30-person international crew in a commando-style raid from a helicopter last Thursday and towed it to the north-western city of Murmansk. Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee has accused the 30 activists of piracy as part of an organised group, which carries a 15-year maximum sentence, for allegedly attempting to seize an oil-drilling platform owned by state-controlled energy giant Gazprom.

Judges in Murmansk decided the immediate fates of the activists one-by-one. At least 16 of those detained have been refused bail and placed in pre-trial detention for two months, including American captain Peter Willcox and activists from Russia, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland and Turkey. Eight activists from Brazil, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Ukraine were detained until a new hearing three days from now.

Six of the ship’s crew members are UK citizens, though the judge had yet to rule on some of their cases. Denis Sinyakov, a prominent Russian photojournalist who previously worked for Reuters, was one of those placed in detention, sparking a protest in Moscow.

Greenpeace has called the piracy charges “absurd” and decried the decision to hold activists in pre-trial detention as an intimidation tactic.

“The Russian authorities are trying to scare people who stand up to the oil industry in the Arctic, but this blatant intimidation will not succeed,” Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said.

Investigators called for all 30 activists to be placed in pre-trial detention, arguing they could flee abroad, go into hiding or engage in “criminal activity”. In testimony that was streamed online, Greenpeace spokesman Roman Dolgov, who was also placed in detainment, said Russian special forces seized the ship in international waters, and that the activists posed no threat of violence. Conditions in pre-trial detention in Russia are often prison-like.