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Russia moves detained Arctic activists to St Petersburg
by Staff Writers
Saint Petersburg (AFP) Nov 12, 2013

Kresty: Historic and notorious jail for Arctic activists
Moscow (AFP) Nov 12, 2013 - Its red-bricked walls looming ominously on the banks of the Neva River, the Kresty jail in Saint Petersburg has housed detainees ranging from Trotsky to Soviet dissidents in its 120-year history spread between the tsarist era, the USSR and modern Russia.

The roll-call of the prison's high-profile detainees has now been joined by at least half a dozen of the 30 Greenpeace activists arrested by Russia for a protest in the Arctic against oil drilling.

The Russian prison authorities on Tuesday sent the 30 Greenpeace activists to three different jails in Saint Petersburg, including Kresty, after transferring them from the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk.

It is behind the famous red brick walls of the prison that the detainees will likely wait for news of when their trial will start and while away the hours as their governments work behind the scenes for a possible solution to the case.

Kresty is a prominent landmark in Saint Petersburg, in the centre and easily visible to the thousands of tourists who take river cruises on the Neva River in summer.

But the walls hide a dark and disturbing history that began in 1890 when the Tsarist authorities commissioned a new prison that would be the most modern and biggest in Europe for its time.

The bold design in two cross shapes gave the prison the name by which it is universally known in Russian -- Kresty -- which simply means "Crosses". The prison also has a church which was consecrated in 1890.

Before the Russian revolution, it housed enemies of the Tsarist state like Alexander Kerensky, who would lead the February Revolution and Anatoly Luncharsky who would become Lenin's top cultural official as well as Leon Trotsky himself.

'Three-hundredth in line, with a package'

But after the revolution, it was the enemies of Bolshevism who found themselves in the prison especially during Stalin's 1930s purges when its cells were filled with the victims of political repression.

These included the historian Lev Gumilev whose mother, the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, would wait outside the walls of the prison in the hope of passing him a package.

She immortalised the agony of having loved ones in Kresty in her classic poem "Requiem", writing of waiting "The three-hundredth person in line, with a package" outside the Kresty walls "As you burn through the New Year ice/ With your hot tear".

Also detained in the dark years of repression was the great Soviet general Konstantin Rokossovsky, who Stalin would eventually allow to be released to play a key role in the military defeat of Nazi Germany.

Since 1964, Kresty has been a so-called Investigative Isolator -- a prison where detainees are held pending trials, a period that can last even years in Russia. Its formal title is now Investigative Isolator Number 1 of Saint Petersburg.

"The employees of Investigative Isolator Number 1 carry out their official duties in the best traditions of previous generations," its official website proudly boasts.

The prison even has a museum but according to the website it is currently closed to visitors.

The Greenpeace detainees may find some distractions -- prisoners in October played football against a team of seminary students and the website says that the "isolator has always been known for its success in mini-football".

Last month, guards and prisoners also took part in a prison production of Dostoyevsky's classic novel "Crime and Punishment".

"The choice of subject was no accident," according to the prison website, adding that the "great acting did not leave the audience indifferent".

Russia on Tuesday put 30 crew members of a Greenpeace protest ship in prisons in Saint Petersburg, after moving them from the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk where they have spent weeks in jail amid growing international concern.

The move to possibly milder and more comfortable conditions in Russia's second city came amid an apparent intensification of global pressure on Russia over the detention of the crew from 19 different countries, who have spent over six weeks in Murmansk.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already voiced concern over the case while British Prime Minister David Cameron last week urged President Vladimir Putin to treat the so called "Arctic 30" fairly.

The Russian prison service transported the prisoners in a special carriage attached to a regular passenger train, which arrived in a train station in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday afternoon, an AFP photographer saw.

A column of prison service trucks then drove away from the station.

It was not clear if the prisoners had been moved to ensure better detention conditions in the high-profile case or to ease the investigation which is being run from Saint Petersburg, Russia's northern capital.

Greenpeace wrote on Twitter that several male detainees had been driven to the notorious Kresty prison on the banks of the Neva River which housed political prisoners both in tsarist and Soviet times.

The striking red-brick complex built in 1890 counts Leon Trotsky among its former inmates. It is known by the nickname Kresty, or Crosses, because of its layout, although its official name is Investigative Isolator Number One.

According to Greenpeace, six of the 30 have been sent to Kresty. Three more men are in Saint Petersburg's detention centre Number Four while four women have gone to detention centre Number Five. The organisation was still confirming where the other activists are being held.

'Make sure they go home'

On arrival, the prisoners face an initial quarantine period when they are not allowed to meet lawyers.

Many countries have consulates in Saint Petersburg, Russia's second largest city, which could make it easier for diplomats to visit the prisoners. The city also has direct flights abroad.

The train journey from Murmansk to Saint Petersburg covers around 1,500 kilometres (950 miles) and takes 27 hours.

The crew members of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship were detained after several staged a protest against energy prospecting in the Arctic by scaling a state-owned oil platform on September 18.

Russian authorities boarded the ship a day later and towed it to Murmansk where it is still impounded. Greenpeace says the authorities had no right to detain the Dutch-flagged icebreaker in international waters.

The Netherlands this month took Russia to court, arguing in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea that authorities had no right to prosecute the crew or impound the ship. Russia has boycotted the hearings, but the tribunal will rule on the case on November 22.

The situation has already strained relations between Moscow and the Netherlands while Britain's Cameron described the charges as "excessive" and said he had raised the issue in a phone call last week with Putin.

"I have appealed to Vladimir Putin to try to de-escalate this and make sure that these people can go home," he told BBC Radio last week. Six of those detained are British.

Russia's Investigative Committee in October said it was changing the initial piracy charges against the crew members to hooliganism, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

But Greenpeace says the piracy charges were never formally lifted, meaning the activists are currently facing charges of both piracy and hooliganism.

All have been detained until November 24 and are likely to be convoyed to court hearings next week to extend their detention.

On Tuesday the Kremlin's human rights council published an open letter to the head of the Investigative Committee, asking for the Greenpeace crew members to be released on bail.



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Arrested Greenpeace crew 'moved' to new location
Moscow (AFP) Nov 11, 2013
Russia moved the crew of a Greenpeace Arctic protest ship from the northern port of Murmansk on Monday and put them on a train to Saint Petersburg, the organisation said. The 28 activists and two reporters, arrested in September after protesting against oil exploration in the Barents Sea, left their detention centre at 5:00 am (0100 GMT) and are now on a train, said Greenpeace spokeswoman Da ... read more

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