MOSCOW -- A Russian court ordered a photographer and five Greenpeace activists to be held under arrest for two months Thursday pending investigation into an attempt to board an oil drilling platform in the Arctic Sea.
Prominent Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov, American ship's captain Pete Willcox and Greenpeace spokesman Roman Dolgov were among those ordered held by a court in the northern Russia port of Murmansk.
The court had yet to rule on the fate of the other 24 people on board the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise, though proceedings were continuing late Thursday. The ship was seized by Russian commandos Sept. 19, the day after activists tried unsuccessfully to board the Prirazlomnaya platform to hang a banner protesting oil exploration of the Arctic.
Authorities at one point accused the activists of piracy. Prosecutors are seeking time to build a case against those on board.
[Updated at 9:08 a.m. Sept. 26: By late Thursday, four more people were ordered held for two months pending investigation and three others for three days. More judges were called in to speed up the process for the remaining 17 people who were aboard the Arctic Sunrise, said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Greenpeace Arctic program.
“What we see is a fierce intimidation campaign against our activists based on the absurd accusation of piracy,” Chuprov said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. He said Greenpeace lawyers will appeal the rulings.]
Sinyakov, who has been covering the recent actions of Greenpeace activists in the Barents Sea, is a freelance journalist who has nothing to do with the group's agenda, said Alexei Simonov, head of Glasnost Defense Foundation, a Moscow-based rights group.
“The authorities violated all norms and laws by keeping Sinyakov in prison,” Simonov said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “I must say it again and again that Russian justice system is designed by the Kremlin not to look for real culprits to be punished but to punish and scare those who don't suit the authorities.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday the detained activists were not pirates but argued they appeared to be trying to seize the drilling platform. “They created a threat for the life and health of people,” Putin said.
Prirazlomaya is one of the major projects of Gazpromneft, a subsidiary of the Russian gas giant Gazprom. Its spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, told the radio station Echo of Moscow that during the Greenpeace raid last week, divers were working under the platform.
“There were people working underwater and any accident could have led to a catastrophe,” he said.
Last week, Sinyakov posted on his Facebook account an image of a hooded Russian coast guardsman pointing a handgun at the photographer's boat.
On that day, the first two activists were detained, and Sinyakov wrote in his account: “I call upon you to join the struggle for freeing these activists, who sincerely see Arctic exploration as malignant.” He was subsequently detained.
On Thursday, photographers gathered at the Russian Investigative Committee office in downtown Moscow to protest Sinyakov's arrest.