Amnesty International has called on Russian authorities to drop piracy charges levelled against 30 Greenpeace activists, including two New Zealanders.
David John Haussmann and Jonathon Beauchamp were among a group of protesters arrested last month following an attempt to board an Arctic oil platform owned by Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom.
Sixteen members of the group were charged with piracy on Wednesday, and overnight the remaining 14 – including the Kiwi pair – were also charged. Under Russian law, piracy carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.
Greenpeace has called the charges "farcical", and Amnesty International New Zealand says they are "absurd" and damaging to the rule of law.
"Piracy charges need to involve violence, or the threat of violence, for private gain," executive director Grant Bayldon said on Firstline this morning.
"Now in this case, neither of those things are at stake. The Russian court either needs to come up with charges that have some legal merit, or release the protesters."
The court in Murmansk however has instead denied the group bail, and Greenpeace's appeal on that decision isn't likely to be heard until next week.
Strangely enough, the protesters might have an unlikely ally in Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has said it's obvious "they are not pirates".
But Mr Bayldon says the Greenpeace activists have been caught up in a wider pattern of "stranglehold on dissent" across Russia, led by Mr Putin's government.
"In Russia, any protest at the moment is met with a very tough response from the government, and often disproportionate. We saw that with Pussy Riot, we see that with political demonstrations, we see that with journalists who criticise the government – really anyone who speaks out against the government in Russia is at risk of having really the full weight of Russian authority brought to bear on them."
Greenpeace says it was the Russians who acted illegally in detaining the ship Arctic Sunrise and her crew, as the protest took place in international waters.
Mr Bayldon says it may be that the protesters broke Russian law, but it's "absurd" to accuse them of being pirates.
Greenpeace will be holding a protest in Wellington outside the Russian Embassy on Saturday at midday.
source: newshub archive