Critical Analysis: Russia Still Under International Scrutiny for Imprisonment of Greenpeace Activists

After two months of imprisonment in Russia, nine Greenpeace activists were released on Tuesday, November 19th, by a St. Petersburg court order. The activists, who were among 30 imprisoned since September, still face charges of “hooliganism” for protesting offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The detainment of these individuals, who hail from countries including Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Poland, and France, increased international criticism of Russia’s legal system and human rights violations.

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for "hooliganism" by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists were arrested by Russian authorities for “hooliganism” by protesting offshore oil drilling. Image: Greenpeace

On September 18th, two Greenpeace activists were captured while attempting to board the Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform to remove a banner in protest of the oil drilling. Initially traveling aboard the Greenpeace ship “Arctic Sunrise” with 28 other activists, the ship and its occupants waited in the international waters for the release of the two captured activists.  All of the activists were subsequently arrested at gunpoint by Russians stationed on the platform. Dubbed the “Arctic 30,” the Greenpeace activists were initially charged with piracy by Russian authorities. Later, the charges were reduced to “hooliganism,” which carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years, less than half of the maximum sentence a piracy charge carries.

Greenpeace continually pushed for the release of the Arctic 30 on bail, but Russian authorities were reluctant, claiming that they wanted to hold the prisoners for another three months for further investigations. Greenpeace released a statement in early November indicating that the imprisonment of the Arctic 30 “represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Those brave men and women went to the Arctic armed with nothing more than a desire to shine a light on a reckless business.” Greenpeace’s Executive Director, Kumi Naidoo, remained staunch in his position that Russia was violating the Human Rights Act by detaining the Arctic 30.

Greenpeace is not without its critics though. The arrests came after the Arctic Sunrise asked for permission to enter the Northern Sea Route but was denied by Russian authorities. Nonetheless, the ship ignored this denial and entered the route. Some see Greenpeace’s efforts as attention tactics, characterizing the organization’s actions as ways to make as much of a spectacle as possible, which therefore detracts from the underlying objective of environmental awareness and improvement.

Originally held in the Arctic city of Murmansk, the Arctic 30 were moved to St. Petersburg where they were able to be visited by family and lawyers. As of now, nine of the prisoners are eligible for release if the bail of $61,000 is met for each of the activists. Greenpeace stated that the organization has raised enough money to meet the bail amounts. While this is an indication that Russia is relaxing their stance on this internationally criticized situation, it should be noted that the activists have not been released of the charges against them. Furthermore, this event coupled with Russia’s highly publicized anti-gay laws, has spiked international scrutiny over the country’s human rights record.

Lydia Rice is a 3L and is Candidacy Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy

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