Celebrities join vigils for jailed activists

GLOBAL EFFORT::A worldwide day of solidarity with the 30 Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia followed legal action started by the Netherlands on Friday to free the crew

AFP, MOSCOW

Mon, Oct 07, 2013 - Page 6

Rock stars and celebrities joined a worldwide vigil on Saturday in support of 30 Greenpeace activists whose jailing by Russia after a protest against Arctic oil drilling sparked a new row between Moscow and the West.

British actor Jude Law, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, The Clash guitarist Paul Simonon and Damon Albarn, frontman of British band Blur, joined about 1,000 people gathered outside the Russian embassy in London, as other protesters rallied in cities across the world.

Pressure has been mounting on Russia from both activists and governments shocked by Moscow’s decision to level piracy charges against Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise crew.

Law voiced support for his friend Frank Hewetson, one of the activists.

Law said the activists “probably knew there would be an arrest involved and the threat of a conviction is probably part and parcel of the act of drawing attention to the drilling in the Arctic, which we all know is an international problem which needs confronting.”

He called the piracy charges “ludicrous.”

However, Russia displayed little inclination to show leniency on Saturday as it lashed out at both Greenpeace and the Dutch government, under whose flag the environmental lobby group’s ship sailed.

“Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise is a pure provocation,” Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexei Meshkov said.

Russian authorities impounded the 950-tonne icebreaker last month after it approached the world’s first oil rig in the pristine Barents Sea — the focus of energy companies from around the world.

A court in Russia’s northwestern region of Murmansk has since charged all the crew members — who come from 18 countries, including Britain and the US — with offenses that carry jail terms of up to 15 years.

The incident has set off a burgeoning diplomatic effort to secure the activists’ release despite Russia’s tough stance.

The Netherlands broke more than two weeks of silence about the case on Friday by starting legal action under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, aimed at quickly freeing the crew.

Meshkov fired back on Saturday that the Dutch had been repeatedly warned about the dangers of the ship’s actions.

“In the past year-and-a-half, Russia has asked the Dutch side on many occasions ... to forbid this ship’s actions,” Meshkov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

However, several governments now appear ready to add the Greenpeace detentions to their growing log of complaints about Russia’s treatment of human rights issues under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said she had expressed concern about her country’s crew member during talks with another Russian deputy foreign minister on the sidelines of a regional forum in Bali.

The US State Department also said it was “monitoring the case very closely.”

The global day of solidarity started on the sandy beaches of Australia and stretched across swathes of Africa and Europe before its expected conclusion outside Moscow’s science and culture center in Washington.

Greenpeace said hundreds gathered at Hong Kong’s main harbor to form a human banner reading: “Free the Arctic 30.”

Russian activists dressed in bright yellow sailing jackets held a small vigil near Moscow’s iconic Gorky Park during which they held up posters with photographs of the detainees.

About 300 activists in Paris witnessed a large yellow banner proclaiming: “Free the Climate Advocates” being lowered from a crane over the Place de la Republique and attached to the arm of a giant statue at the center of the square.

Another 1,000 Greenpeace sympathizers — some of them dressed in pirate costumes — gathered outside the Russian embassy in The Hague for a noisy demonstration featuring whistles and drums.

“If they were pirates, then we are proud to be pirates too,” 39-year-old demonstrator Erik Mekenkamp said before the crowd set off for a rally outside the UN’s International Court of Justice.

About 500 Greenpeace supporters also came out for a two-hour rally in Stockholm. In Helsinki, another 1,300 people protested, and dozens came out on the public squares of Warsaw and Rome, as well as Vienna and other European cities.

Greenpeace also tweeted photographs of small vigils held in the South African cities of Durban and Cape Town.