More than a dozen Greenpeace activists and a freelance video journalist have been charged with piracy by the Russian authorities after a protest at an Arctic oil rig.
British activists Alexandra Harris from Devon, Philip Ball from Chipping Norton, Anthony Perrett from Newport in Wales and videographer Kieron Bryan from London were amongst the 14 charged today – facing a maximum jail sentence of 15 years. They made up part of the 30-strong crew who used Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship to protest against oil drilling in the Arctic last month.
Two activists tried to climb the side of the Prirazlomnaya platform – Russia’s first offshore oil rig in the Arctic that is owned by state-controlled energy giant Gazprom - and hang a banner on it.
Russian security services abseiled from a helicopter onto the deck of the Arctic Sunrise and seized the ship at gunpoint, according to Greenpeace.
Activists from countries including Argentina, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Finland and Brazil were also charged today and were reportedly taken to the Murmansk office of the Investigative Committee - the Russian equivalent of the FBI.
Greenpeace said they expected charged to be bought against all the activists – representing 18 nationalities. The group includes six Brits.
Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace’s international executive director, described the piracy charge as “absurd.” He said the activists “felt compelled to bear witness to the slow but unrelenting destruction of the Arctic” and that the way they had been treated represented “the most serious threat to Greenpeace’s peaceful environmental activism” since the bombing of their Rainbow Warrier ship in New Zealand in 1985.
He added: A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience. This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Any claim that these activists are pirates is as absurd as it is abominable.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said the activists were “not pirates,” but may have broken international law. The Investigative Committee said on Monday that their ship had violated the 500-metre security zone around the platform. Greenpeace Russia denied the ship had entered the zone. The organisation said that inflatable boats used by the activists did, but posed no danger.
Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director John Dalhuisen said the “unfounded” charges “make a mockery of the Russian justice system and should be dropped immediately.” He added that Russian authorities have “clearly decided to make an example” of the Greenpeace activists.
Mr Bryan, 29, a freelance filmmaker and videographer who has previously worked at The Times, was hired on a short-term contract by Greenpeace. His parents, Andy and Ann Bryan, from Devon, said they were “extremely worried” about their son.
They said: “Our son is a very kind, caring individual and environmental issues have always been very close to his heart. He would sympathise with the cause but he was simply there doing his job as a freelance videographer.”
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