Saturday, October 12, 2013
Russia: Families Say Detained Greenpeace Crew ‘Ordinary, Peaceful People’
By Claire Bigg and Aleksandra Vagner
October 11, 2013
When her husband left for the Arctic last month to cover a Greenpeace protest against offshore oil drilling, Alina Zhiganova watched him go with a heavy heart.
She knew the reporting trip would keep him away from home for several weeks.
But neither of them suspected how dramatically the protest would end for all those involved, including for Zhiganova’s husband, distinguished Russian photojournalist Denis Sinyakov.
On September 19, Russian authorities detained all 30 people on board Greenpeace’s icebreaker, “Arctic Sunrise,” and charged them with piracy for attempting to stage a protest on an oil platform owned by Gazprom.
The defendants, many of whom are foreigners, have all been remanded in custody for two months pending trial.
They face up to 15 years in prison.
Zhiganova was able to pay a brief visit to her husband at his pretrial detention center in the northern Russian city of Murmansk.
What she saw deeply alarmed her.
“He’s holding his head high,” Zhiganova says, “but as someone who has known him for a long time, I can see that he’s not well at all. He has lost a lot of weight. He has huge black circles under his eyes. You can tell he’s having a hard time.”
‘The Death Of Freedom Of Speech’
A court in Murmansk denied bail to Sinyakov on October 8, saying he was a flight risk although he and Zhiganova have a 3-year-old son.
Speaking by videolink from his detention center, he told the court that he had only been covering the protest as a journalist and that his prosecution “spells the death of freedom of speech in Russia.”
At the same hearing, a Greenpeace spokesman and the doctor onboard the “Arctic Sunrise” were also denied bail.
Sinyakov had been documenting the protest for the Russian news website Lenta.ru and also took pictures for Greenpeace on a freelance basis.
Another freelance journalist, British national Kieron Bryan remains in detention after the court turned down his bail appeal on October 11.
The charges of piracy leveled against the environmental activists and the two reporters, widely denounced as disproportionate, have sparked a barrage of criticism worldwide.
Under Greenpeace’s plan, two activists who began to scale the Gazprom platform were to unfurl a banner reading “Don’t Kill the Arctic.”
Russian Coast Guard personnel eventually descended onto the ship from helicopters and threatened the crew with guns before towing the vessel to Murmansk.
The group says it had no plan to take control of the platform and that its ship was in international waters when it was seized.
Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, described all 30 detainees as prisoners of conscience and demanded a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
INTERVIEW: RFE/RL Speaks With Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo
In Russia, Sinyakov’s jailing has caused particular dismay.
Fellow journalists have rallied to his defense, staging pickets, launching petitions, and publishing black squares in place of photographs on their websites as a sign of solidarity.
More than 300 journalists sent a note to the court in Murmansk calling for his release.
They say his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent that could embolden authorities to punish reporters simply for covering protests critical of Kremlin policies.
Putin’s own human rights council condemned Sinyakov’s detention as “a crude violation of the law on mass media” and noted that journalists covering news events “cannot bear responsibility for the actions of those participating in this event.”
Zhiganova, however, says her husband is all but cut off from the outside world and was unaware of the campaign until his lawyer briefed him during a recent prison visit.
“Denis did not know about what was going on in Moscow — about the protests, about the fact that newspapers were publishing black squares instead of photos,” she says. “He didn’t know any of that. He is isolated from society. He’s in pretrial detention together with criminals and, apart from his lawyers, he has no contact with anyone.”
For the families of foreign activists detained on the “Arctic Sunrise” the separation has been just as agonizing.
Anita Litvinov, the wife of Swedish national Dmitry Litvinov, says she is currently waiting for a Russian visa to visit him in detention.
Litvinov last spoke to her husband on September 19, when he called to congratulate their son on his 14th birthday. The couple lives in Stockholm and has two other children.
Since then, the family has received only sporadic news from him through the Swedish Embassy in Russia.
“Based on everything I hear, I’m very, very worried, and very anxious,” she told RFE/RL. “I’m very eager to have him back home.”
Anita Litivnov stresses that Greenpeace has a long history of nonviolent protests.
Last month’s stunt at the Gazprom oil platform, she says, was no exception:
“I know my husband and I know some of the other people who were on the ‘Arctic Sunrise,'” she said. “They are ordinary peaceful people. They wanted to draw attention to a problem that is connected to environmental pollution and global warming. Their intentions are, and have always been, peaceful.”
EXPLAINER: Five Things To Know About Russia’s Greenpeace Drama
Some observers believe that Russian authorities are seeking to deter Greenpeace from staging further protests in the Arctic — which Russia wants to turn into its top source of oil and gas over the next decade – and that the activists will soon be released.
Putin has defended their detention. But he has also said the activists were not pirates, fuelling hopes they would be spared jail sentences.
Sinyakov’s wife, at any rate, has no intention of giving up her battle to free him: “If I didn’t have hope, I would go mad.”
Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Interview: Greenpeace Head Says Biggest Crime Is Arctic Drilling
October 11, 2013
Russian authorities are keeping 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists in detention after the environmental group attempted to stage a protest against offshore oil drilling in the Arctic at a platform owned by Russia’s Gazprom. All 30 detainees have been charged with piracy.
RFE/RL’s Mark Krutov spoke to Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International.
RFE/RL: Greenpeace activists have been campaigning on environmental issues for decades now. What kind of legal issues have you run into over the years?
Naidoo: Probably the worst impact of any action taken against Greenpeace was the murder of one of our activists, Fernando Pereira, when French intelligence bombed the “Rainbow Warrior” 27 years ago in Auckland, New Zealand. We have had activists that have been in prison. In Copenhagen, for example, some of our activists were held for 21 days over Christmas and New Year’s.
We have activists who engage in peaceful protests around the world who often are arrested, but often the charge is trespassing and that usually carries a fine rather than prison time. The worst prison time, as far as I understand, that any of our colleagues have served is six months.
RFE/RL: Have piracy charges ever been leveled against Greenpeace activists?
Naidoo: We have never been charged with piracy. There have been cases where sometimes a government might start talking about piracy and then quite quickly realize that “these guys are peaceful, they are not armed, and they are not acting for personal gain, so therefore they don’t meet a lot of the basic definitions of piracy” and it’s struck.
RFE/RL: The Russian authorities accuse the activists of violating Russian and international law. You have expressed the desire to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. If Putin agrees to this meeting but makes it a precondition for the activists’ release that Greenpeace admits guilt, will you comply?
Naidoo: It depends [on] admitting the guilt for what, right? If it is to admit the guilt for piracy, definitely not.
Clearly, if we were to admit that we broke the law at the level of breaching the exclusion zone, for example, and to admit that — which is a violation — we would be happy to admit that. But to say that we tried to storm the rig, to say that we are pirates, and so on, and that we were risking property and people — all of which is not true — that we cannot honestly concede to, even if it means getting the people released.
The biggest crime being committed is the environmental crime of pursuing drilling in the Arctic for oil, when in fact the threats — of climate change on the one hand, but also to the environment of the Russian Arctic — [are] so potentially devastating that history will judge this is the biggest crime that went unpunished and unregulated.
RFE/RL: You have said that Greenpeace is not picking a fight with the Russian government and that your protest focused on Gazprom. Are you aware, though, of the close ties between Putin and Gazprom?
Naidoo: Yes, we are aware of that. But our focus is not on the presidency or the government per se. Our focus is on a company that, we believe, might be operating within the law, but is engaged in environmental destruction and will lead the planet to climate disaster.
Especially when just recently the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that we are running out of time, there has to be more urgency, and that known fossil fuel reserves — a significant chunk of it — [need] to stay underneath the ground where they are if we are to prevent runaway catastrophic climate change.
And runaway catastrophic climate change, just to be clear, means that life on this planet as we know it will be threatened and we will put at risk our [children’s] and grandchildren’s future. That’s what is at stake. And that is why the Artic is so important and that is why we have been taking these actions.
RFE/RL: Could you clarify the status of Russian national Denis Sinyakov, one of the two freelance journalists who were detained during Greenpeace’s protest last month. Can he be considered an activist, too?
Naidoo: The Greenpeace activists made a conscious decision — they knew that there are potential consequences whenever Greenpeace activists take action. But we don’t expect the journalists to get arrested. That’s why in my letter to President Putin I said that it’s not fair. As Denis said: “The crime I’m accused of is called journalism, and I will continue to do it.”