MOSCOW, October 3 (RIA Novosti) – Russian authorities on Thursday completed pressing piracy charges against all 30 people detained aboard a Greenpeace icebreaker that was used in a protest where activists attempted to climb up a Gazprom oil rig in the Arctic.
“The defendants pleaded not guilty and are currently refusing to give relevant testimony,” Russia’s Investigative Committee said on its website. Fourteen of the detainees were charged Wednesday and 16 on Thursday. They face up to 15 years in prison.
Greenpeace opposes oil extraction in the Arctic because, it says, a spill would be impossible to clean up. The group said Thursday that it had appealed a Russian court’s decision for the 30 defendants, who represent 18 different nationalities, to be kept in pretrial custody until November 24.
Russian border guards seized the ship, the Arctic Sunrise, and detained everyone aboard, including the crew, a photojournalist and a freelance cameraman, after the September 18 attempt by several activists to scale the Pechora Sea rig, which state-owned Gazprom is preparing to develop the extensive Prirazlomnoye deposit.
The executive director of Gazprom Neft Shelf, the subsidiary in charge of the operation, told the Prime news agency on Thursday that the rig was safe and had an emergency plan that complied with government requirements. The exec, Gennady Lyubin, also denied that the operation was receiving state funding.
Russian state television channel NTV reported that one of the detainees, a British national, had a heart attack when presented with the piracy charge. Greenpeace spokesman Vladimir Chuprov, however, told RIA that the report could not be immediately verified.
The so-called Arctic 30 comprise nationals of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States.
A survey published Thursday by a respected state pollster revealed that 60 percent of Russians approve of the case. Another 66 percent indicated that Russia should “prevent attempts by foreign environmental organizations to hinder Russia’s Arctic exploration,” the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) said on its website.
Seventeen percent of the 1,600 respondents from across the country said the detained activists were being treated “too harshly,” while 20 percent said environmental protests in the Arctic should not be obstructed. The survey had a statistical margin of error of 3.4 percentage points, the pollster said.