Russia eases charges against Greenpeace activists

MOSCOW — Piracy charges against 30 people who were aboard a Greenpeace ship protesting Arctic drilling have been reduced by Russian authorities to hooliganism, the head of the Investigative Committee announced Wednesday.

The Russian coast guard seized the Arctic Sunrise after two activists attempted to climb onto an oil rig in the Pechora Sea on Sept. 19 and later towed the ship to Murmansk. Greenpeace said the protesters expected to face perhaps 15 days in Russian custody, but investigators charged all of those on board with piracy — which carries a 15-year sentence — and the courts refused to grant bail.

The action made global headlines and has roiled relations between Russia and the Netherlands. The Arctic Sunrise was sailing under a Dutch flag, and the Netherlands protested what it said was an illegal seizure in international waters.

The incident marks the stiffest crackdown on Greenpeace since French intelligence agents sank the Rainbow Warrior in 1985.

Even President Vladimir Putin, who criticized the protest, said it was clear it did not amount to piracy. But, day after day, defendant after defendant has appeared in the Murmansk courtroom over the past month, and they’ve all been sent back to their cells to face trial.

Now, charged instead with hooliganism, they face maximum sentences of seven years, although conviction usually brings much milder punishment.

“The Arctic 30 are no more hooligans than they were pirates,” a statement issued by Greenpeace said. “We will contest the trumped up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations. They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to reality. The Arctic 30 protested peacefully against Gazprom’s dangerous oil drilling and should be free.”

The 30 defendants hail from 18 countries. Two, Capt. Peter Willcox and Dima Litvinov, are Americans. Greenpeace says all 30 have been held separately in the Murmansk jail and have had difficulty asking for supplies because they don’t speak Russian. All have reportedly been visited by consular officials from their respective countries.

The investigators’ move came just hours after the Foreign Ministry announced that Russia would not take part in a tribunal on the ship’s seizure requested by the Dutch government under the provisions of the International Law of the Sea, which Russia ratified in 1997. The ministry statement says that Russia does not recognize the authority of the tribunal in cases involving sovereignty.

Greenpeace and its allies have noted that the ship, though in Russia’s economic exclusion zone, was not in Russian territory, and that the convention does not permit signatories to exempt themselves from its provisions.

More in Local News

Local police join thousands honoring slain Canadian officer

Abbotsford Const. John Davidson was killed Nov. 6 in a shootout with a suspected car thief.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s best images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

No easy exit from Smokey Point shopping complex

There’s just no easy exit on this one. A reader called in… Continue reading

Lynnwood, Marysville, Sultan consider ban on safe injection sites

If approved, they would join Lake Stevens and Snohomish County, which have temporary bans.

City Council OKs initial funding for Smith Avenue parking lot

The site of the former Smith Street Mill is being developed in anticipation of light rail.

Single fingerprint on robbery note leads to arrest

The holdup occurred at a U.S. Bank branch in Lynnwood in June.

Two windsurfers rescued from Port Susan near Kayak Point

The men had failed to return to shore during Sunday’s windstorm.

Yes to turn signal — eventually

Adding a right-turn signal at 112th St. and 7th Ave. is turning out to be a bit more complicated.

Mill Creek councilman no longer lives in city, panel finds

The Canvassing Board determined Sean Kelly is not eligible to vote there.

Most Read