October 23, 2013

Russia drops piracy claim against Greenpeace activists

The charge is changed to ‘hooliganism,’ which could still mean years in prison for Peter Willcox – the Maine-linked captain – and 29 other detainees.

By Vladimir Isachenkov
The Associated Press

MOSCOW – Russia’s main investigative agency said Wednesday that it has dropped piracy charges against jailed Greenpeace activists and charged them instead with hooliganism, which means the detainees could still spend years in prison.

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Activist and Arctic Sunrise Captain Peter Willcox arrives for his bail hearing at a court in Murmansk, Russia, on Oct. 14, 2013.

Greenpeace International photo

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Maggy Willcox, wife of Peter Willcox, captain of the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise, stands near photos of her husband with his children on a wall in his boyhood home, in Norwalk, Conn. Willcox spoke with her husband Monday for the first time since he was arrested in September during a protest in the Arctic.

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The Investigative Committee’s statement follows a comment by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said last month that he doesn’t think that the Greenpeace activists were pirates.

Piracy is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years, while the specific hooliganism charge being applied now carries up to seven years in prison.

The Investigative Committee also warned that it could file additional charges against the Greenpeace activists, including violence against authorities. That charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A group of 28 Greenpeace activists, a Russian photographer and a British videographer have been held since their ship, the “Arctic Sunrise” was seized by the Russian coast guard after protesting outside a Gazprom-owned oil rig Sept. 18. The ship’s captain, Peter Willcox, is married to Maggy Willcox, publisher of the Islesboro Island News in Maine.

The Investigative Committee said that the detainees’ refusal to testify has impeded the investigation. It dismissed the Greenpeace claim that the protest was peaceful, saying it was a crime under an international law to try to seize an oil rig.

Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia rejected the new charges, saying the activists “are no more hooligans than they were pirates” and should be freed immediately.

“This is still a wildly disproportionate charge that carries up to seven years in jail,” he said in a statement. “We will contest the trumped up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations. They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to reality.”

Chuprov also dismissed the committee’s warning that it may charge some of the activists with use of force against officials, pointing at Greenpeace’s 42-year history of peaceful protest.

“They arrived at that oil rig in a ship painted with a dove and a rainbow,” he said.

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Additional Photos

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Activist Dima Litvinov from Sweden looks from a defendants’ cage at the district court in Murmansk, Russia, on Wednesday. Litvinov is one of the “Arctic 30” who are in custody charged with hooliganism, punishable for up to seven years in jail, after activists tried to scale an offshore oil platform.

AP Photo / Greenpeace International, Igor Podgorny


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