Company wrecks climate. Climate melts ice. Company prepares to drill even more oil. NGO protests drills. Coast guard attacks NGO’s boat. Crew are called pirates. Pirates are locked up. The end.
Or is it?
Today, October 5, in 160+ cities around the world citizens stood together with the Arctic 30, their families, friends, and colleagues. #FreeTheArctic30 became a global cry for justice, as those 28 Greenpeace activists, along with 2 freelancers are in a Russian jail, facing piracy charges. Criminal charges which even Russian president Vladimir Putin has dismissed.
Following a successful protest at the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in 2012, Greenpeace activists attempted to board the rig again on September 18. Their mission: to stop Gazprom from producing the world’s first Arctic oil. Oil which Greenpeace and other environmental organisations say is neither wanted nor safe, given the extreme circumstances and remote location of Arctic drilling.
The activists barely began their climb up the side of the platform though, as they are hosed down with icy water by Gazprom employees, with 2 of them being captured at gunpoint and taken aboard a vessel of the Russian coast guard. Less than 24h later, while in international waters, their support ship the Arctic Sunrise is boarded and taken over by armed FSB forces, and towed to Murmansk, Russia.
According to several international law experts, this armed boarding and capture of a foreign (Dutch) ship in international waters constitutes a breach of international maritime law (UNCLOS). Ironically, after days of legal uncertainty, the Arctic 30 have now themselves been charged with piracy under Russian law, thereby creating a post factum pretext for the illegal boarding of the Arctic Sunrise.
While people gathered in peaceful protest from Seattle to Sydney and from Cape Town to Moscow, adding their presence to the more than 1 million emails sent to Russian ambassadors the world over, the Arctic 30 remain imprisoned in Murmansk. If convicted, they could face sentences of up to 15 years of jail. They are being treated as criminals, though their only crime consists of peaceful protest against practices which are putting the health of the fragile Arctic at serious risk.
As an organisation which above all values respect for human rights, in particular freedom of speech, AEGEE-Europe is deeply concerned about the situation of the Arctic 30. Each one of us should be given the liberty to peacefully express their views on the society they live in, without fear of political or criminal persecution. The Arctic simply is not a playground for ill-prepared mining companies, a topic AEGEE’s own Environmental Working Group will take up in its upcoming meeting.
AEGEE-Europe therefore wholeheartedly supports the Arctic 30, their families, friends, and colleagues in these difficult times. We further applaud the Dutch government for its decision to take legal steps to gain the release of the Arctic Sunrise and its crew, activists, and freelancers. Adding our voices to those of Amnesty International, WWF, and 1 million others, AEGEE-Europe calls upon the Russian authorities to immediately #FreeTheArctic30.
Written by Mathieu Soete, AEGEE-Europe’s Policy Officer for Sustainability.