MOSCOW -- A Russian court on Thursday ordered that 22 people arrested last week aboard a Greenpeace ship be held for two months pending an investigation of an attempt to board an offshore oil drilling platform.
Eight other people from the Artic Sunrise, a Greenpeace icebreaker, were detained for three days pending a new hearing.
Russian commandos seized the ship Sept. 19, the day after activists tried unsuccessfully to board the Prirazlomnaya platform to hang a banner protesting Arctic oil and gas exploration.
Authorities at one point accused the activists of piracy. Prosecutors were seeking time to build a case against them.
The ship’s American captain, Pete Willcox, a freelance British videographer, Kieron Bryan, and a prominent Russian photographer, Denis Sinyakov, were among those ordered held for two months by the court in the northern Russia port of Murmansk, Greenpeace said.
“What we see is a fierce intimidation campaign against our activists based on the absurd accusation of piracy,” said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the Greenpeace Arctic program. He said Greenpeace lawyers would appeal the rulings.
Photographers gathered Thursday at the Russian Investigative Committee office in downtown Moscow to protest Sinyakov's arrest.
The Moscow-based photographer, 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, who heads the Glasnost Defense Foundation, a Moscow-based rights group.
“The authorities violated all norms and laws by keeping Sinyakov in prison,” Simonov told 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.”
Greenpeace maintains that the possible piracy charges are unjustified, and that Russian authorities boarded the Arctic Sunrise illegally in international waters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that it was obvious that the detained activists were not pirates, but argued that they appeared to be trying to seize the Russian drilling platform. “They created a threat for the life and health of people,” Putin said.
Prirazlomnaya is one of the major projects of Gazprom Neft, a subsidiary of the Russian gas giant Gazprom. Its spokesman, Sergei Kupriyanov, told the radio station Echo of Moscow that divers were working under the platform at the time of the Greenpeace raid.
“There were people working underwater and any accident could have led to a catastrophe,” he said.