Gizem Akhan, one of the protesters from the “Free the Arctic 30” group, is turning 25 in Russian prison today. Akhan was imprisoned on September 19 with 26 other Greenpeace protesters and two journalists, after they climbed onto an off-shore oil rig in an attempt to affix a protest sign. Phil Radford, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, says that Akhan and her colleagues had expected to be arrested as they climbed the tower at gunpoint; however the charges being held against the detainees are “lunacy.” The Russian government first charged the Arctic 30 with piracy, and later added hooliganism to the charges. Those in prison in St. Petersburg right now are facing up to seven years in jail.
On Akhan’s 25th birthday today, her mother released a statement via Greenpeace.org and sent her best wishes to her daughter:
“My dear daughter, I hope the love and the fiery will of life is never extinguished from your gentle heart. May your excitement and energy never diminish and your smile is never absent. May your birthday be the day that the goodness, beauty, peace and freedom takes their reign on Earth. We hope you have many happy, healthy, and free years ahead of you. We love you. The strength Gizem showed in the 46 days of detainment in Russia has been inspirational.”
Gizem Akhan and the other Greenpeace activists were offshore in Russia to protest oil drilling in the Arctic. Radford says that the Russian oil company Gazprom, together with the Shell Oil Company, is planning to start drilling for Arctic oil. He also said that according to UN climate change research, if we hope to successfully combat climate change, it is important that oil companies leave at least three quarters of the Earth’s remaining oil underground. Environmentalists are also concerned that any oil spills in the Arctic will be much more difficult to clean up than in other areas, due to the harsh climate.
According to Greenpeace, most of the Arctic 30 were arrested while on small boats near to the oil platform. Reportedly these Greenpeace members and journalists were taken into custody by the Russian military after warning shots were fired and cannons were fired in the vicinity of the boats. Radford maintains that such an arrest is highly illegal, given that these were international boats, and that most of the imprisoned activists had no legal charges when they were put in jail.
Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo agrees with her US colleague, stating that “the detainees shouldn’t be in jail at all. They should be free to join their families and restart their lives.” The “Free the Arctic 30” movement has seen international support from countries including the US, Canada, Mexico and China, but as yet Russian authorities refuse to drop the charges. Gizem Akhan most likely did not expect to turn 25 in prison, but since her and her colleagues were recently moved to a jail in St. Petersburg, it is easier now for her to receive messages and visits from friends, family and legal defense team members.
By Mandy Gardner