AFP – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop Saturday expressed concern to Russia about an Australian crew member of a Greenpeace ship facing a “very serious” piracy charge over an Arctic oil exploration protest.
Colin Russell is one of 30 activists from the Arctic Sunrise ship who were detained in Russia and are facing the charge, which can carry a lengthy jail term, after last month’s protest.
After talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Indonesia’s Bali, Bishop said she had raised “Australia’s concern about the case”.
She said she asked the minister “that Russian authorities accord due legal process to Mr Russell and other detainees”, adding that Australia was looking into whether the “very serious charge” was appropriate.
“I’m seeking advice on the details of the piracy charges. I understand they were brought under a Russian law but we’re seeking advice as to whether these charges are appropriate,” she said.
Piracy by an organised group carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years in Russia.
Bishop said Australian consular officials had been in touch with Russell, adding: “I understand he is well, his conditions of detention are adequate.”
A prisoners’ rights activist told AFP this week the detainees were complaining of cold cells, chain-smoking fellow prisoners and difficulties communicating with guards, hardly any of whom speak English.
The September 18 protest saw several activists scale an oil platform owned by energy giant Gazprom in the Barents Sea to denounce Russia’s plans to drill in the Arctic.
Russian border guards lowered themselves onto the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise from a helicopter, locked up the crew and towed the ship to Murmansk, located nearly 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) north of Moscow.
Russian investigators charged all 30 crew members with piracy over the protest. They accused the activists of trying to seize property with threats of violence.
Greenpeace denies the crew members — who come from 18 different countries including Britain, Russia, New Zealand, Canada and France — committed any crime.
Lawyers for the 30, who are being held in Murmansk and the nearby town of Apatity, have filed appeals against the decision to hold them in detention.
The Netherlands said Friday it had started legal action to free the crew members.