On Thursday September 19, 2013, Russian special forces illegally boarded and seized control of the Arctic Sunrise: a Greenpeace vessel that was conducting peaceful protests against an oil rig in international waters. An estimated fifteen or sixteen armed FSB (Russian internal security agents) boarded the ship from a helicopter and arrested all thirty activists at gunpoint including two New Zealanders. This was an escalation of the quasi-military protection that Russia had been providing for Gazprom; the world's largest extractor of natural gas and the first company to drill for oil in the Arctic. According to Argentinian greenpeace activist Camila Speziale, the day before the Russian authorities had fired automatic weapons in the air and water, used water cannons on two activists scaling the oil rig and threatened to open fire on the ship if they didn't leave the area.
Arctic Sunrise was then forcibly taken to just out Murmansk despite no official charges having been laid at that point. After illegally detaining all thirty activists under armed guard and without legal representation Russia's Investigative Committee announced that they were to be investigated for piracy, these charges which have been upheld so far carry a maximum sentence of 15 years. Piracy, as defined in Article 101 on the UN convention on the Law of the Sea, only applies when "illegal acts of violence, detention or depredation are committed against a ship or aircraft for private ends". Any reasonable consideration of the sequence of events inevitably leads to the conclusion that it is the Russian state authorities who have in fact committed acts of piracy for the private gain of Gazprom. Legal experts and academics around the world have condemned the actions of the Russian Federation and petitioned them to suspend the piracy investigation immediately.
The actions of the Russian state authorities demonstrate a total disregard for international law and human right conventions. Greenpeace say that more than a million people have petitioned Russian embassies to free the activists and there have been protests around the world. If you would like to join the campaign to Free the Arctic 30 you can do so on the Greenpeace website.
On Wednesday October 9, 2013, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Russian President Vladimir Putin both attended the Apec conference in Bali, Indonesia. Key displayed his trademark impotence in dealing with any issues pertaining to democratic or civil rights by failing to exert any diplomatic pressure on Putin to drop the piracy charges or to release the two New Zealand citizens. Instead, Key coat-tailed Putin like a love crazed fanboy waiting for a chance to snap a pic with the Russian oligarch which he quickly uploaded to Twitter. In a media release Key said with regard to the Greenpeace activists "in the end people need to consider their actions" and in reference to the Russian piracy prosecution "we can't interfere in their system". The Russian legal system also enforces a law banning "gay propaganda" which is used to persecute LGBT activists, presumably Key thinks that this should be allowed to continue unimpeded as well. The national shame of having John Key as our leader is increasing every week.
- Shane, SA.