Nearly two million sign petition to free Greenpeace activists

By staff writers
25 Oct 2013

Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists, a photographer and a videographer are still being held in custody by the Russian authorities.

Charges of 'piracy' have been dropped against them, but they still face many years in prison for 'hooliganism'.

The Greenpeace petition to the Russian authorities to free them is rapidly moving to two million signatories.

The Arctic Sunrise had been part of a peaceful protest against energy giant Gazprom, which is poised to drill for the first oil to come out of the icy waters of the Arctic.

Using a helicopter and ropes, armed Coast Guards illegally boarded the ship and held those on board under armed guard whilst they towed the ship to shore.

The Greenpeace team were then remanded for up to two months by a court in Murmansk.

The authorities said they needed time to investigate possible charges of piracy. On 23 October 2013 they changed those charges to hooliganism, which carries up to seven years in jail. This is a wildly disproportionate charge and is an assault on the right to peaceful protest.

"Please send an urgent email to the Russian Ambassador in London and demand the immediate release of these peaceful protestors," the NGO has appealed to supporters and members of the public.

“The piracy charges originally brought in this case were patently absurd – but these new charges are no better. Hooliganism is a serious criminal offence in Russia, and it is not one that those engaging in peaceful protest should be prosecuted under,” commented John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, yesterday.

Under Russia’s Criminal Code, hooliganism charges can only be brought against those using weapons to commit gross violations of public order on the grounds of hatred for a particular racial, ethnic, religious or social group.

The provision is vague and open to abuse, and Amnesty believes it should not be applied in this case.

“This Russian roulette of criminal charges must stop. The Arctic 30 activists must be released immediately and the Russian authorities must halt their ill-founded attempts to criminally prosecute them,” said Dalhuisen.

“The Russian authorities have an ulterior motive behind their repeated attempts to use criminal charges, when, under Russian law, only administrative offences might apply to the detained Greenpeace activists. They want to send a strong message that protests, however peaceful, won’t be tolerated and any infringements, however minor, will be met with severe penalties.”

The “hooliganism” charge was also brought against members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot last year.

* Sign the petition to free the activists here: http://tinyurl.com/nbhesng

[Ekk/3]

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