MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin’s human rights adviser urged prosecutors to drop piracy charges against Greenpeace activists for an Arctic protest.
“These charges are laughable because there isn’t the slightest justification for accusing the crew of the Arctic Sunrise of piracy,” Mikhail Fedotov said in an interview in Moscow.
The prosecution of 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists from 18 countries, who each face as long as 15 years in prison, is damaging Russia’s international reputation, according to Fedotov. They should be charged with minor hooliganism at the most, which carries a maximum of sentence of 15 days in jail, he said.
The case has provoked a diplomatic row as the Netherlands seeks to force Russia to release the Dutch-registered Arctic Sunrise and its crew, which were seized after two Greenpeace protesters climbed an OAO Gazprom rig Sept. 18 in the Pechora Sea. Putin is already facing criticism in Europe and the U.S. for cracking down on political opponents after extending his 13-year-rule in elections last year.
The captain of the seized vessel is Peter Willcox who has ties to Islesboro, Maine. Willcox is married to Maggy Willcox, who works on Islesboro and is editor and publisher of the Isleboro Island News.
Willcox sees Fedotov’s stance on the piracy charges as a welcome development, she said Friday night in a telephone interview.
“That’s good news … that’s really positive,” she said.
“I also take their reporting that they found narcotics [on the Greenpeace vessel] and that they were going to charge them with drug charges and beating their chest over that as a really desperate move because it’s easily proven that they’re required to have morphine on board,” Willcox said. “They have a hospital room on board, they have a doctor as part of their crew.
“And also, Norway has a pretty strict drug policy and the boat was searched by drug sniffing dogs before it left Norway for the Bering Sea,” she said. “That really gave me hope, too.
“I was told Peter, as captain, would face administrative charges that other people wouldn’t,” she said, adding that the charges stemmed from Willcox’s not stopping his boat when told to do so by the coast guard. “Administrative charges don’t carry any jail time. It’s just a fine and they fined him $618,” she said. “OK, OK, we can deal with that.”
“So at the risk of jinxing anything — I’m so scared because it’s so unpredictable — all those things combined make me a little hopeful that they’re realizing that this is a no-win situation.
“There’s nothing in it for them. They’ve already proven their point. They’ve already proven that they are going to be [difficult] about people messing with them about drilling for oil in the Arctic,” she said. “There’s just no benefit for them to pursue the piracy charges so that’s what I am relying on … but these little things are helpful.”
A court in the port city of Murmansk, where the 30 people are being held, refused Friday to free two Britons on bail, Greenpeace said by email. Three other campaigners and a Russian freelance photographer failed to win release earlier this week, with further bail hearings expected next week.
The environmental group plans to target Gazprom and European companies that buy its gas to secure the activists’ release, Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said in an interview Wednesday. The group is considering a campaign urging consumers to protest against Russia’s largest company, which supplies about a quarter of the European Union’s gas, Naidoo said.
The investigators who filed the piracy charges should be fined and the money should be used to improve Russia’s image in the world, Fedotov said.
“Those people who charged the crew of Arctic Sunrise with piracy should be made to finance two or three global tours by the Bolshoi,” Fedotov said, referring to Moscow’s leading ballet and opera company. “I’ve long called for such individuals who cause harm to the country’s reputation to be forced to pay compensation.”
The Presidential Human Rights Council, which Fedotov heads, will appeal to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the head of the Investigative Committee and maybe even Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov himself to drop the piracy charges, said Fedotov.
Putin said Sept. 25 that while the Greenpeace campaigners “clearly” aren’t pirates, they violated international law by trying to seize a drilling platform. They also alarmed officials, who didn’t know who was attempting to take over the facility, Putin said.
Russia’s Coast Guard boarded Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship in international waters on Sept. 19 and towed the vessel to Murmansk, near Finland and Norway.
The Investigative Committee said earlier this week it found drugs on the ship and accused some activists of trying to ram a Coast Guard craft, warning that more serious charges may be forthcoming. Greenpeace denied the boat was carrying narcotics and said it’s “a fantasy” that campaigners sought to hit a boat carrying border guards.
Gazprom plans to become the first Russian company to start producing oil in the Arctic offshore as soon as this year. Greenpeace activists scaled the same platform in 2012.
The captain of Arctic Sunrise, who’s among the 30 people detained in Murmansk, was in charge of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior when it was sunk in Auckland in 1985 by a bomb planted by the French intelligence service.
The activists include citizens of the U.S., Finland, Argentina, Switzerland, the U.K., Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Poland and Sweden, according to Greenpeace.
BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.