26 September 2013, News Wires – Greenpeace activists detained by the Russian Coast Guard after an attempted boarding of an oil platform in Arctic waters appeared at a Murmansk court hearing on Thursday to face questions over their actions.
The 30 campaigners from 18 countries were ferried in police vans before being escorted wearing handcuffs into the Lenin district court in the Russian port, where judges at the preliminary hearing will rule whether they should remain in custody, the BBC reported.
They were rounded up by armed Russian security officers who stormed their vessel Arctic Sunrise after last week’s abortive effort to scale the Prirazlomnaya platform at the Gazprom Neft Shelf-operated Prirazlomnoye oilfield in the Pechora Sea, due to be brought online later this year.
The Dutch-registered vessel was subsequently towed to Murmansk, with Russian prosecutors looking to press charges of piracy against the activists.
According to a Twitter feed from Greenpeace on the ongoing hearing, several activists are to be held in custody for two months pending a piracy investigation by Russian authorities.
While President Vladimir Putin has conceded the campaigners “are obviously not pirates”, he insisted they were still in violation of international law despite claims by the environmental group it was a peaceful protest and that its ship was illegally boarded by the Russians while in international waters.
The charge of piracy reportedly carries a prison term of up to 15 years in Russia.
Greenpeace’s general counsel Jasper Teulings has said that “piracy laws do not apply to safe and peaceful protests”.
An investigator at the hearing was tweeted as saying the activists had “the purpose of seizing property with the threat of violence”.
Greenpeace said that all the activists had now been questioned in the presence of lawyers, having earlier been allegedly denied access to legal counsel while being held on the vessel.
Meanwhile, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans is said by the group to have demanded that the Russian authorities release the vessel and its detained crew, or face possible legal action that is being considered by his government