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Russian court to rule on jailing Greenpeace activists
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Sept 26, 2013

Dutch call on Russia to release Greenpeace protesters
The Hague (AFP) Sept 25, 2013 - The Netherlands has asked Russia for the immediate release of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested for a high seas protest against Arctic oil exploration and said it is considering legal action.

Russia has opened a criminal probe into alleged piracy following a dramatic commando-style raid last week in which security services boarded the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise and towed it into Murmansk.

The ship's 30 crew members have been placed in detention centres in and around the far northern city and are being questioned by Russian authorities.

"Based on maritime law, the Netherlands has asked Russian authorities to immediately release the ship and its crew," Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote in a letter to the Dutch parliament on Wednesday.

Timmermans said the crew could be tried by Russia if charges are brought.

The raid followed an earlier protest at an oil rig belonging to the world's largest gas company, Gazprom, by Greenpeace campaigners to highlight drilling in the ecologically sensitive seas of the Russian Arctic.

Depending on what information Russia gives on the detention and charges, the Netherlands is also looking at "possible legal steps, including at the UN's International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea," Timmermans wrote.

Timmermans had discussed the matter with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the letter said.

Timmermans said The Hague has asked Moscow for more information to ensure that Russia was acting according to international law in regards to ships sailing under foreign flag and the activists' right to peaceful protest.

The Dutch government has asked Russia to "clarify the legal grounds determining their actions against the Arctic Sunrise, its exact position at the time it was overpowered and why the Netherlands was not informed that a ship sailing under its flag was being boarded," Timmermans said.

It pressed Moscow for an answer by 06:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Tuesday, but received no word, with Russia then saying it needed more time.

"Today (Wednesday) the Netherlands again asked Russia for a speedy release of information," Timmermans said.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the activists "were not pirates" but had broken the law, raising hopes that they may not face such severe a charge as piracy which carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in jail.

Gazprom has built up its oil activities in recent years, and is the first company to seek to produce oil in the seas of the Russian Arctic.

Greenpeace says the project, which aims to start production in 2014, is an ecological disaster waiting to happen due to the poor condition of Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil rig.

A Russian court on Thursday began considering whether to prolong the detention of 30 Greenpeace activists suspected of piracy after they held a high seas protest on an Arctic oil platform.

The Lenin district court in the northern city of Murmansk on Thursday morning opened a hearing into the activists, including 26 foreigners, who launched a protest on an oil rig from Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship.

Russian investigators said they would ask the court to rule that all the activists be kept behind bars as the piracy case is investigated further. They have been held in detention in Murmansk since late Tuesday.

The hearing began shortly after 11:00 am in Murmansk (0700 GMT), Greenpeace Russia wrote on Twitter.

"The hearing will be open... They will start with citizens of France, Canada and Russia," Greenpeace said.

It said that activists were brought into the court building in handcuffs.

"Today the investigation intends to ask for the Lenin district court of Murmansk to hold all the 30 suspects in custody," the Investigative Committee, which probes major crime cases in Russia, said on its website.

The Russian authorities by Thursday evening must either charge the activists, release them or apply for their detention to be extended without them being charged, Greenpeace spokesman Aaron Gray-Block said in an e-mailed statement.

He said the activists had all been interviewed with a lawyer and some with a diplomat from their country also present.

The Investigative Committee said that all the activists, who come from 18 different countries including Britain and the United States had cited their right to remain silent under the Russian Constitution.

Russian border guards took control of the Greenpeace ship and locked up the activists after they last week attempted to scale state energy giant Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil platform in protest at oil exploration in the Barents Sea.

The border guards, who had seized the vessel after descending on it on ropes from helicopters, then towed the ship to Murmansk, where the activists were held for questioning.

Russia has opened a case into piracy, although President Vladimir Putin took a milder stance on Wednesday, telling an international Arctic forum that "of course they are not pirates."

This has raised hopes that even if they are eventually charged, it will be under a less grave article than piracy.

But Putin said the activists had broken international law by approaching dangerously close to the oil platform.

Greenpeace denies that the activists committed piracy, saying that this only applies to ships and that they held a peaceful protest.


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