Greenpeace to appeal activists' jailing in Russia

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By NATALIYA VASILYEVA, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Greenpeace said Friday it will appeal the Russian court rulings that sent its activists to jail for a protest at an offshore drilling platform in the Arctic.

On Thursday, the court in the northern Russian city of Murmansk jailed 28 Greenpeace activists who protested last week near the platform owned by a Russian state energy giant, Gazprom, along with a freelance Russian photographer and a freelance British videographer.

"These detentions are like the Russian oil industry itself, a relic from an earlier era," Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement. "Our peaceful activists are in prison tonight for shining a light on Gazprom's recklessness."

Of the 30 people jailed by the court, 22 were put in custody for two months pending an investigation and the other eight were detained for three days pending a new hearing, now scheduled for Sunday.

No charges have been brought against any of the activists. Russian authorities are considering whether to charge them with piracy, among other offenses.

The Russian Coast Guard disrupted an attempt by two of the activists to scale the oil platform on Sept. 18. The next day, they seized Greenpeace's ship, the Arctic Sunrise, and towed it with the crew aboard to Murmansk.

Greenpeace Russia campaign director Ivan Blokov described the arrest as "the most aggressive and hostile act against Greenpeace since the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior ship." Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior was bombed by French government agents in New Zealand in 1985, killing one man.

The detained activists are from 18 countries, including Russia, and a long detention or series of trials could draw unwelcome international attention to Russia's tough policy against protests.

Greenpeace Russia's lawyer, Anton Beneslavsky, rejected Gazprom's claims that the activists could have caused damage to the platform.

"If one activist hanging on the rope from the platform could have damaged it, then such a platform should not operate on the Arctic shelf," he told a news conference Friday.

Beneslavsky also referred to Greenpeace's protest at the same site last August when six activists spent several hours hanging off the side of the platform attached to the rig's mooring. Back then, the coast guards "did not react at all to what happened," he said. The activists were not detained and faced no charges.

The platform, which belongs to Gazprom's oil subsidiary, is the first offshore rig in the Arctic. It was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technological challenges. Gazprom said this month it was to start pumping oil this year, but no precise date has been set.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week he did not think the activists were pirates but defended the decision to detain them, saying that coast guards had no way of knowing who they were.

Reporters Without Borders on Thursday protested the jailing of freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, saying his arrest was "an unacceptable violation of freedom of information." The top trans-Atlantic security and rights group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also demanded Sinyakov's immediate release.

Several Russian media outlets, including a private but Kremlin-friendly national TV station, NTV, took all pictures off their websites in a show of solidarity with the jailed photographer.

In Paris, a few dozen Greenpeace activists staged a protest Friday in front of the Russian Embassy, waving banners with images of the incarcerated activists and the word "FREE" written over them.

"Non-violent action to denunciate environmental crime is not piracy. We hope that our activists will be released quite soon," said Greenpeace activist Anne Valette.

Protesters from the topless feminist group Femen also came to the defense of the jailed activists, mounting a boat on the Seine River in Paris, waving flags and shooting flares to protest the arrests. The Femen activists, who take off their tops regularly at public demonstrations to defend a wide range of causes, unfurled a banner reading "Militancy isn't Piracy."

Environmentalists also protested outside the Russian embassy in Buenos Aires, carrying candles and signs with pictures of the two Argentine Greenpeace activists jailed in Murmansk.

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Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Sohrab Monemi in Paris contributed to this report.

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