A Russian court on Thursday detained Greenpeace activists - including one Swiss - for two months who were part of a group protesting near an oil platform in the Arctic last week. They face an investigation and a possible lengthy jail sentence.
Following an attempt by 30 Greenpeace activists on September 18 to scale a Russian Arctic platform, a Murmansk court in northwest Russia on Thursday denied bail and gave a two-month jail term to Marco Weber from Switzerland.
Among the others detained - the majority of the group, the numbers have not yet been confirmed - were ship captain, Pete Willcox of the United States, Canadian crew member Paul Douglas Ruzycki, boat mechanic Jonathon Beauchamp of New Zealand, Francesco Pisanu of France, Gizhem Akhan of Turkey, Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov and Greenpeace spokesman Roman Dolgov, also from Russia.
The other activists were jailed only for three days pending a probe into the attempt.
Greenpeace said in a statement on Friday that it would appeal and was seeking the crew's immediate release.
Russian authorities seized Greenpeace's ship, the Arctic Sunrise, and towed it with 30 people aboard to Murmansk.
No charges have been brought against anyone in the group, and several activists' cases are still being considered by the court. Judges are deciding whether to jail each activist pending the investigation. Russian authorities are looking into whether they could be charged with piracy, among other offenses.
The Swiss foreign ministry has said that it is “closely monitoring the case” of the Swiss national, while Greenpeace Switzerland has called for his release, as well as that of the other detainees.
If convicted of piracy they could face up to 15 years in jail.
On the scene
In a statement released on Wednesday, the Swiss foreign ministry said that a Swiss representative was on the scene in Murmansk.
“He is talking to the local authorities in order to try to establish contact with the person in question and with the representatives of the countries of other individuals who have been detained,” said the ministry.
The ministry has also asked the Russian foreign ministry and the Russian embassy in Switzerland for clarifications concerning this case.
For its part, Greenpeace Switzerland is calling for the release of all detainees, the coast guard to depart from Greenpeace’s ship and an end to the off-shore oil drilling in the Arctic.
In an interview with the Swiss public broadcaster’s 10 vor 10 news programme shown on Wednesday evening, Greenpeace Switzerland’s Yves Zenger said Russia’s economic and strategic ambitions for the Artic explained the strength of their reaction.
The platform, which belongs to an oil subsidiary of state natural gas company Gazprom, is the first offshore rig in the Arctic. It was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technological challenges. Gazprom said earlier this month that it was to start pumping oil this year, but no precise date has been set.
Greenpeace has insisted that under international law Russia had no right to board its ship and has no grounds to charge its activists with piracy.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday – at a forum on Artic affairs – that the activists weren’t pirates but defended the detention, saying the coast guard officers had no way of knowing who they were. Observers have viewed Putin’s comments as a conciliatory move.
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