MURMANSK/MOSCOW, October 14 (RIA Novosti) – A court in Russia’s Arctic port city of Murmansk continued to reject bail appeals from Greenpeace activists detained last month on piracy charges, ruling Monday to leave three more of them behind bars pending trial.
The Murmansk Regional Court’s ruling to deny bail to US citizen Peter Willcox, Camila Speziale of Argentina, and David John Haussmann from New Zealand takes the number of rejected appeals to nine so far.
Willcox, 60, who captained the Greenpeace icebreaker seized by border guards in September in the Pechora Sea, told journalists during the court proceedings that he had “many regrets” over the events that have led to his predicament.
RIA Novosti’s legal reporting agency RAPSI quoted Willcox as saying he had never faced such severe charges in 40 years of activism, and that he would have stayed in New York if he could choose to go back.
Willcox has already been fined 20,000 rubles ($620) for failing to obey orders from the Russian coast guard during the standoff between the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and border guards.
Denial of Willcox’s appeal came despite his lawyer expressing concern over his health complications stemming from a heart condition.
All 30 Greenpeace detainees have petitioned for release on bail or home arrest pending trial. Barring any successful bail application, the group will remain in custody until a hearing on November 24.
The court also heard an appeal Tuesday from Italian national Cristian D’Alessandro. A Twitter account devoted to the Arctic Sunrise case, operated by Greenpeace, reported from the court that the judge ordered that D’Alessandro be represented by a new lawyer and that a new hearing take place Tuesday.
On September 18, Greenpeace activists launched inflatable boats from the Arctic Sunrise and tried to scale an oil rig operated by an affiliate of Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom in protest against what they say is the potentially devastating impact of offshore drilling on the Arctic environment.
In response, Russian authorities seized the Arctic Sunrise and towed it to Murmansk, where all 30 people on board were charged with piracy, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and put in pretrial detention.
The “Arctic 30,” as Greenpeace has christened the group, includes 28 activists, one freelance photographer and one freelance videographer.
Last week, the ship’s doctor Yekaterina Zaspa, Greenpeace spokesman Andrei Allakhverdov and activist Roman Dolgov – all Russian nationals – as well as British activist Phil Ball, British freelance videographer Kieron Bryan and Russian freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov were denied bail.
The Russian authorities have hinted that the detainees may still be hit with additional drug charges, claiming that they found opiates on board the Arctic Sunrise. Greenpeace slammed the allegations as exaggerated, saying that Russia must be referring to “medical supplies that our ships are obliged to carry under maritime law.”
Court debates during the detainees’ appeal hearings have focused on the activists’ intentions – whether or not they intended to seize the Prirazlomnoye platform – as well as whether or not the oil rig counts as a ship. Under international maritime law, piracy is considered an attack specifically against a ship or aircraft.
A human rights advisor to the Kremlin, Mikhail Fedotov, has called for Russia to drop the piracy charges. He said last week that the activists clearly didn’t intend to forcibly seize the platform and said the accusation is tantamount to accusing them of gang-raping the oil rig.
Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged publicly that the detainees were not pirates, but said they had violated international law by attempting to scale the rig and that the authorities had acted legitimately out of security concerns.
With 18 nationalities represented among the Greenpeace detainees, the case has drawn global attention.
Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff last week promised all assistance necessary to free Brazilian activist Ana Paula Maciel, and the Netherlands has launched legal action to free the Arctic Sunrise – which sails under a Dutch flag – and its crew, promising to take the case to international court if they are not released.
Updated with new headline, additional appeal denials, quotes, and background information