30 Greenpeace activists who were charged with piracy are being relocated to a jail in St. Petersburg, after they were detained and sent to a remote Russian prison. The activists were arrested following a protest at an oil drilling platform in the Arctic Ocean. After being detained by Russian authorities, they were taken to the port city of Murmansk, where they were held for six weeks.
According to Alexandre Paul, a Canadian citizen who is among the Greenpeace activists currently awaiting trial, the group has been separated from each other and that while conditions in the jail are less than favorable, he has not been abused by Russian authorities.
According to officials, the move to the jail in St. Petersburg is a step up from the previous location in the Arctic Circle, allowing for easier access to consular services, which the group will be utilizing as they attempt to fight the charges.
“The detainees shouldn’t be in jail at all.” said Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace director. “They should be free to join their families and to restart their lives,”
Russia’s increasing clamp down on protestor’s rights makes the nation one of the most hostile countries to free press and political dissidents.
The all female rock group “Pussy Riot”, famous for crashing historical and governmental sites all around Russia with flash-mob style performances denouncing the Russian government, have met a similar fate to that of the Greenpeace activists. Three of the four members were arrested in 2012 after a provocative performance in Moscow’s Orthodox cathedral, a symbol of the bond between Russia’s government and the church.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the members of Pussy Riot, recently staged a hunger strike while in prison, and is herself on notice to be transferred to a different prison. She is set to spend two years in prison for her part in the performance that disrupted a church service.
Meanwhile President Vladimir Putin has shown no qualms about playing both sides of the argument, giving free passage to Edward Snowden, former NSA agent and whistleblower, for his stance against the American government. Many claim that Putin’s intention is to extract intelligence from Snowden in exchange for the safe haven. The two faced move has worried international observers, who see Russia’s human rights record deteriorating. Putin has been marked as a leader who is willing to cash in on any opportunity to score political points against his opponents.
While there is no clear motive for the transfer of the Greenpeace activists, the move does make the group optimistic, with more resources and possibilities for families and loved ones to visit.
Putin maintains that Russian sovereignty in the Arctic, a strategic economic location, was violated by the group.
The issue Greenpeace was trying to draw attention to was the increased fracturing of the Arctic Circle due to oil drilling. The fracture of the ice has caused it to melt faster, producing a rise in ocean levels which have produced environmental concerns for many coastal regions.
Greenpeace hopes that the charge of piracy will be reduced to hooliganism, a charge much less serious, that could allow the group to be released within a few months.