Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop yesterday 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 APEC forum in 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 organized group carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years in Russia.
Bishop said Australian consular officials had spoken with Russell, adding: “I understand he is well.”
A prisoners’ rights activist said earlier in the week the detainees were complaining of cold cells, chain-smoking fellow prisoners and difficulties communicating with guards, hardly any of whom speak English.
During the Sept. 18 protest, several activists scaled an oil platform owned by energy giant Gazprom in the Barents Sea to denounce its 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, nearly 2,000km 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 Russia, Britain, 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 on Friday it had started legal action to free the crew members.