The final chapter in the legal ordeal of the Arctic 30 began today as the group was asked to attend a meeting at Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee, where the criminal case against them is being dropped en masse.
They will then have one more hurdle—securing exit visas in their passports—before the non-Russians are free to leave the country and be reunited with their families. A meeting with the Federal Migration Service is scheduled for later today. The Arctic 30 are expected to leave Russia in the coming days.
"This is the day we've been waiting for since our ship was boarded by armed commandos almost three months ago," Peter Willcox, American captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, today said.
"I'm pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all. We have already discovered enough oil to dangerously heat the planet and we took action to prevent that. Giving the planet to the oil and coal companies is not an option.
The Arctic 30 have lived together in a St Petersburg hotel since being release on bail nearly five weeks ago. They will spend today (Christmas Day in the west, but not in Russia) at the Investigative Committee and then the Federal Migration Service. They will then have Christmas dinner together – possibly the last time they will all be together after a saga that started with a peaceful protest at an Arctic oil rig before they were jailed for two months, sparking a huge global campaign."
"This is weird for me to receive this today on Christmas Day. I don't see it as a gift. We should not have to receive this ‘gift’ at all, we should be in our homes with our families today, it is ridiculous that we were arrested for a peaceful protest," Camila Speziale, 21, from Argentina said.
"It seems such a long time ago we were on the Arctic Sunrise. It is unbelievable that Gazprom has already started drilling in the Arctic. I'm happy to be going home, but this is not over yet. I will keep raising my voice and taking real action to stop the oil companies destroying the Arctic."
The Investigative Committee is today implementing an amnesty agreed by the Duma (Russian parliament) that effectively ended legal proceedings against the Arctic 30. Yesterday just one of the thirty—Anthony Perrett—had proceedings against him dropped. Today the other 29 are joining him."
“By taking the amnesty nobody is admitting guilt, far from it, these are people who remain proud of the stand they took for Arctic protection," Greenpeace International Arctic campaigner Ben Ayliffe said.
"And now this chapter is nearly over. Greenpeace would like to thank the consular officials in St Petersburg who worked hard to get us this far. Even today many of them are giving up their own Christmas Day to push the migration service to process visas as quickly as possible.”
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The Russian authorities have told the Arctic 30 that they cannot leave the country, defying the ruling of an international court which ordered that they should be allowed to go home immediately.
Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee has written to one of the 30—Anne Mie Jensen from Denmark—indicating that they are not free to leave the country. Lawyers for Greenpeace expect all of the non-Russian defendants to be treated in the same way by the authorities, meaning they would now be forced to stay in St. Petersburg for the foreseeable future.
Last week lawyers for the Arctic 30 asked the Committee to contact the Federal Migration Service (FMS) and request visas for the non-Russians, so they can leave Russia and return if summoned by the authorities. But in its letter to Anne Mie, the Committee says it is not willing to ask the FMS to issue the visas. The FMS has previously said it will not issue visas until it receives a direct request from the Investigative Committee.
Arctic 30 lawyers also sought an assurance from the Investigative Committee that it would give at least one month’s notice when it wanted to interview the Greenpeace defendants—otherwise they would risk inadvertently breaking their bail conditions if they returned home to their families. In its letter to Anne Mie the Committee says it will not provide the requested notice.
Peter Willcox is Captain of the Arctic Sunrise—the ship seized by Russia after a peaceful protest at an oil platform in the Pechora Sea—and is one of the Arctic 30 currently restricted to the city of St. Petersburg. Willcox said:
I am ready to go home to my family.We were seized in international waters and brought to Russia against our will, then charged with a crime we didn’t commit and kept in jail for two months. A respected international court says we should be allowed to go home, so do numerous Presidents and Prime Ministers, but we can’t get visas to leave the country, and even if we could there’s no guarantee the Investigative Committee won’t schedule an interview for the day I get home, forcing me to break my bail conditions. This is either a mistake and we’re caught in a vicious bureaucratic circle, or it’s a deliberate snub against international law. Either way this is a farce.
A ruling in November by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)—made up of twenty-one eminent judges—ordered Russia to allow the Arctic 30 to leave the country immediately and to release the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, as soon as a bond of 3.6 million Euros in the form of a bank guarantee was paid. That bond was posted by the Government of the Netherlands—where the Arctic Sunrise is registered—on Nov. 29. Russia is now in defiance of that order.
Greenpeace International legal counsel Daniel Simons said:
The Russian Federation is now in clear breach of a binding order of an international tribunal. As President Vladimir Putin stated in his famous open letter to the American people on Syria, ‘The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.’ In his State of the Nation speech yesterday in Moscow, he added: ‘We try not to lecture anyone but promote international law.’ It’s time for the authorities to act in that spirit and allow the Arctic 30 to go home to their families immediately.
In its letter to Anne Mie the Investigative Committee said it would not release the Arctic Sunrise because its continued seizure was authorized by a Russian court.
An amnesty decree likely to be voted on by the Duma (Russian parliament) this month could still see legal proceedings against the Arctic 30 dropped. A draft of the decree submitted by President Putin does not include the Arctic 30, although a small amendment by the Duma would see them covered by the amnesty.
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