15 Oct 2013

Bail denied to Greenpeace activists

7:30 am on 15 October 2013

Russian authorities have has denied bail to the American captain of a Greenpeace ship and two other foreign activists - one a New Zealander - who are among 30 environmentalists arrested on charges of piracy over a protest at an Arctic drilling platform.

Peter Willcox, David John Haussmann of New Zealand and Camila Speziale, who has Italian and Argentinian citizenship, had appealed against an order that they be held in pre-trial detention until late November.

A decision on another Arctic Sunrise crew member, Cristian D'Alessandro of Italy, was put off until Tuesday, when bail hearings for two others are also planned.

A court in the northern port city of Murmansk has already denied bail to two Britons and four Russians held over the 18 September protest in which activists tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya rig and security forces later boarded the Greenpeace ship.

The piracy charges, punishable by up to 15 years' jail, appear aimed at sending a message that Moscow will not tolerate attempts to disrupt its development of the resource-rich Arctic.

Mr Willcox, 60, a veteran campaigner who was at the helm of the Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed and sunk by the French secret service in Auckland in 1985, denied the charges against him in court.

"I have been doing this for 40 years and never faced a charge like this," the state-run Russian news agency RIA quotes him as saying. "If I could start everything over, I would stay in New York."

Greenpeace says the protest at the rig (owned by state-controlled Russian energy company Gazprom) was peaceful and calls the piracy charges absurd and unfounded.

"He is a hero not a pirate," Mr Willcox's wife, Maggie, says. "I appeal to the common sense and conscience of the Russian authorities to let my husband and the rest of the people from the Arctic Sunrise come home."

President Vladimir Putin has said the activists are not pirates but have violated international law.