Science, Tech & Environment

Russia charges Greenpeace activists with piracy after protest at Arctic oil rig

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Greenpeace activist Faiza Oulahsen from the Netherlands at a district court in Murmansk on September 29, 2013.

Credit:

Reuters

Russian authorities have charged 16 more Greenpeace activists with piracy over their protest at an Arctic oil rig.

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The entire crew of 30 from the Arctic Sunrise - the Greenpeace boat used to launch the protest - have now been charged. The group was arrested last month after two of the protesters tried to board an oil platform owned by the Russian state-controlled oil company, Gazprom.

Greenpeace has called the charges "irrational, absurd and an outrage."

Freelance journalist Charles Maynes, based in Saint Petersburg, says the protest was part of a wider campaign against drilling in the Arctic.

But the Russian media, Maynes pointed out, has been painting Greenpeace not as an environmental group, but as an American-backed organization that is attacking Russian sovereignty.

The Greenpeace activists tried to climb aboard the platform, but were rebuffed by the Russian crew. Eventually, the Arctic Sunrise was captured by Russian special forces, Maynes said, and now the entire crew is being brought up on piracy charges.

"It's likely to turn into an international scandal. We're talking about 30 people from 19 countries," he said.

Maynes says this incident comes at a bad time, with Russia already under pressure because of its new, anti-gay law and the Olympics just a matter of months away.

It's similar to the situation that developed over the Pussy Riot arrests and trial, where members of a band were arrested for their protest and jailed. That episode drew widespread international condemnation.

"Unless someone in Russia, someone high up, takes a look at what's happening and decides this just isn't worth the kind of distraction ahead of the Olympics... I can see this being a major nuisance to the Russians," Maynes said.