Dutch push Russia to free Greenpeace activist crew

Greenpeace members pass the Kremlin during a protest against the detention of 30 activists. Picture: AP
Greenpeace members pass the Kremlin during a protest against the detention of 30 activists. Picture: AP
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THE Netherlands has asked an international court to order Russia to release 30 people detained during a Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic – making the request at a tribunal Moscow refused to attend.

Dutch government representative Liesbeth Lijnzaad yesterday said Russia had “violated the human rights” of the activists who tried to climb on to Russia’s first offshore Arctic oil rig in September, detaining them for seven weeks “without grounds”.

Russia has said it does not recognise the case, accusing the activists on the Dutch-registered ship Arctic Sunrise of posing a security threat. Prosecutors charged the 30 with piracy but then reduced the charge to hooliganism, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

President Vladimir Putin has said the 30 activists are not pirates, but has faced growing criticism in the West over what is seen as Russia’s heavy-handed treatment of the case.

As of yesterday, however, Greenpeace said its lawyers had not yet been formally notified by Russia that the piracy charges had been dropped.

In a statement after the hearing, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said: “Russian authorities propose to jail 30 men and women for two decades because a couple of peaceful protesters tried to hang a small yellow banner from the side of a 500,000-tonne oil platform.”

Countries have no right to seize vessels belonging to third countries in their exclusive maritime economic zones, Ms Lijnzaad told the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany. Tribunal president judge Shunji Yanai set 22 November as the provisional date for a court decision.

Another Dutch government representative, Rene Lefeber, told the court that exclusive economic zones such as the one where the Greenpeace ship was arrested gave nations rights to protect their natural resources, but not the same powers to board and arrest vessels as they can in territorial waters.

As Russia’s arrest of the vessel was illegal, other actions which followed this – including the detention of the crew – were also illegal, Mr Lefeber said.

The Hamburg court was established by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – to which both the Netherlands and Russia are signatories – to settle maritime disputes. Its decisions are binding, but it has no means of enforcing them.

Greenpeace, which is based in Amsterdam but works across the globe, praised the Dutch efforts to free the ship and crew.

Greenpeace international general counsel Jasper Teulings said after the hearing: “The Netherlands is taking a strong stance in support of the rule of law and the right to peacefully protest.”

Mr Teulings said Greenpeace feared the 30 detainees still faced the piracy charges – which carry a maximum jail term of 15 years – despite a decision by the Russian committee handling the case to reduce them to hooliganism in late October.

“Nothing has changed despite the statement by Putin and from the investigative committee that the charges would be requalified to hooliganism,” Mr Teulings said.

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev last week reiterated Moscow’s stance that Greenpeace posed a threat to the security of Russian workers and the environment by disturbing work at the platform.

The case has added to strains in relations between Russia and the Netherlands.

On Tuesday, the Dutch foreign minister denounced a Russian law banning “homosexual propaganda” among minors and said the violation of gay rights could be grounds for asylum in his country.