AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands, November 4, 2013 (ENS) – Russia is moving the 30 Greenpeacers who tried to scale a Gazprom drilling platform in the Barents Sea from the Arctic port of Murmansk to St. Petersburg. Despite global demonstrations of support for the “Arctic 30,” Russia has piled charges of hooliganism and vandalism on top of piracy charges and shows no signs of leniency towards what Greenpeace calls “a peaceful protest.”

Burmese parliamentarian and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi today expressed her support for the Greenpeace Arctic 30. The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who spent decades in jail and under house arrest, Suu Kyi joins 11 other Peace Prize Laureates in calling for the release of the 28 activists and two journalists.

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Greenpeacers dropped this banner at the UEFA Champions game between FC Basel and German club FC Schalke 04 in Basel, Switzerland, October 1, 2013. Gazprom is a Champions League sponsor. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

The 30 women and men were arrested by Russian law enforcement officials September 19 following a protest against an Arctic oil platform in the Pechora Sea, a section of the Barents Sea off northern Russia, within Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Greenpeace says this location makes the arrest of the Arctic 30 and seizure of their Dutch-flagged ship, the Arctic Sunrise, illegal because the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea guarantees foreign vessels the freedom to navigate in the Exclusive Economic Zone of another country without interference.

The Prirazlomnaya platform targeted by the Greenpeace protest was being used by Gazprom, the world’s largest extractor of natural gas. The Russian government controls most of the Gazprom shares and private parties hold the rest.

Gazprom plans to start production from the Prirazlomnaya platform in the first quarter of 2014. The Prirazlomnoye development would become the first hydrocarbon production project on the Russian Arctic shelf.

Greenpeace warns that production from this platform raises the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three nature reserves protected by Russian law.

But this warning has not affected Gazprom’s plans for development of the area. At a meeting of its Board of Directors on October 29, Gazprom confirmed plans to “lay the foundation for developing the domestic gas industry for decades to come” in part with “a large gas production center [that] is being built on the Arctic shelf based, first of all, on the Barents and Kara Seas resources.”

Now the Arctic 30 are being moved from the detention center in Murmansk where they have been held since their arrest to a jail in St. Petersburg, says Greenpeace International.

Lawyers for Greenpeace are not aware of the reasons for the move.

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In China, Greenpeace supporters ask for the release of the Arctic 30, with Mount Everest visible in the background (Photo by Zhou Li / Greenpeace)

Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said, “The detainees shouldn’t be in jail at all. They should be free to join their families and restart their lives. St Petersburg has some daylight in the winter months, unlike Murmansk. Families and consular officials will now find it easier to visit the thirty. But there is no guarantee that conditions inside the new detention centre will be any better than in Murmansk. In fact, they could be worse.”

“There is no justification whatsoever to keep the Arctic 30 in any prison for a day longer,” said Naidoo. “They are prisoners of conscience who acted out of a determination to protect us all, and they should be free.”

Prosecuting authorities in Russia have failed to lift charges of piracy against the Arctic 30, despite announcing they would do so.

Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee announced last week that the piracy charges – which carry a 15-year jail sentence – would be replaced with charges of hooliganism.

But when the 30 detainees were brought before the Committee over the course of the past week, the piracy charge was not withdrawn. Instead each of them was  served with the additional charge of hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years. They now stand accused of both offenses.

Greenpeace rejects all charges and argues that the activists protested peacefully.

On the October 18,  as the Arctic 30 faced their 30th day of imprisonment, nearly 10,000 people took to the streets at 85 events in 36 cities to call for their immediate release. Their efforts apparently fell on deaf ears.

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Greenpeace India activists stage a protest in Freedom Park, Bangalore in support of the Arctic 30. October 18, 2013 (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

On October 23, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it will not accept an international arbitration process at which the Netherlands is seeking the release of the Greenpeace International ship Arctic Sunrise and its crew under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which both Russia and The Netherlands are States Parties.

David Anderson of the United Kingdom was on Monday appointed an ad hoc judge of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in the case against Russia’s detention of Greenpeace activists, to be heard by the tribunal on Wednesday.

Greenpeace spokesman Ben Ayliffe said in September, “Make no mistake, the real threat to the Arctic comes not from Greenpeace International but from oil companies like Gazprom that are determined to ignore both science and good sense to drill in remote, frozen seas.”

On Russia’s Arctic Shelf – which encompasses the Barents, Pechora, Kara and Bering Seas, Ob and Taz Bays – and in the Sea of Okhotsk, where the operating conditions are close to those in the Arctic, Valery Golubev, deputy chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee said in September that the company has performed “a large scope of studies enabling to lay the foundation for the Russian Arctic shelf development strategy.”

“Gazprom is Russia’s most prepared company that has the experience and technical means for independently implementing offshore projects in the Arctic: from geological and geophysical studies to field commissioning,” declared Golubev at an oil and gas industry conference and trade show.

The southern half of the Barents Sea, including the Russian port of Murmansk, remains ice-free year round due to the warm North Atlantic drift.

Greenpeace says in a plea for people to write letters of support to their embassies, “The activists, crew and journalists were at the Gazprom rig because they felt compelled to bear witness to the slow, unrelenting destruction of the Arctic. As the ice is retreating, oil companies are moving north to drill for the fuels that drive that melting. The Arctic 30 are people who care enough about the world we live in to take a stand and protect it. The Arctic is a stunning place, home to unique species including polar bears and Arctic foxes. Drilling for oil there is an appalling act that threatens this extraordinary environment, and the world’s climate.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.