MOSCOW, Russia – Some 14 Greenpeace activists were charged with piracy in Russia Wednesday after a protest at an Arctic oil rig with the environmental group calling the move “absurd”.
The charge against the activists, most of whom are foreign nationals from Britain, Argentina and Finland, carries a jail term of up to 15 years for a protest in a region the Kremlin sees as a key to future prosperity.
Investigators said authorities had begun charging the 30 people from 18 countries arrested after two Greenpeace activists tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya oil platform, which plays a crucial role in Russia’s effort to mine Arctic resources.
Talking tough, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said concern for the environment did not justify breaking the law.
By evening, Greenpeace said, 14 people had been charged with piracy. It said that the piracy charge was “absurd”.
“It is an extreme and disproportionate charge,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.
“A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience. This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said the activists were “not pirates”, but may have broken international law.
Investigators said Monday that their ship had violated the 500-metre security zone around the platform.
Greenpeace Russia denied the ship had entered the zone. The organisation said that inflatable boats used by the activists did, but posed no danger.
Medvedev countered the argument in comments at a meeting on offshore oil extraction in the Caspian Sea in the southern city of Astrakhan.
“Concern for the environment must not be a cloak for illegal actions, no matter how high-minded the principles motivating participants,” Medvedev said.