On December 18, exactly three months after their arrest, the Russian Duma voted to release 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists known as the Arctic 30. After their boat the Arctic Sunrise was stormed by Russian special forces the Arctic 30 spent months in jail for a peaceful protest against a Gazprom oil rig. It is not know what will happen to the Arctic Sunrise, currently impounded in Murmansk. The amnesty applies to thousands of prisoners and it does not amount to an admission of guilt but it does signal an end to legal proceedings.
Upon hearing news of their release, Peter Willcox the Captain of the Arctic Sunrise said, “There is no amnesty for the Arctic.”
First charged with piracy and then the lesser charge of hooliganism, Greenpeace reports that the Arctic 30 are scheduled for released after a final vote in the Duma that took place at 4 pm today Moscow time (7 am EST). The 26 non-Russians will still need to be given given exit visas by the Russian authorities before they can leave the country.
One of the captives, Ana Paula Maciel from Brazil said:
“I’m relieved, but I’m not celebrating. I spent two months in jail for a crime I didn’t commit and faced criminal charges that were nothing less than absurd. But now at last it seems like this saga could soon be over and it may not be long before we’re back with our families. Right now my thoughts are with our Russian colleagues. If they accept this amnesty they will have criminal records in the country where they live, and all for something they didn’t do. All because we stood up for Arctic protection.”
Peter Willcox said:
“I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place. We sailed north to bear witness to a profound environmental threat but our ship was stormed by masked men wielding knives and guns. Now it’s nearly over and we may soon be truly free, but there’s no amnesty for the Arctic. We may soon be home, but the Arctic remains a fragile global treasure under assault by oil companies and the rising temperatures they’re driving. We went there to protest against this madness. We were never the criminals here.”
The declaration of Amnesty by the Russian Duma was helped by an international outcry that saw 860 protests in 46 countries and in more than 150 cities worldwide. More than 2.6 million people wrote to Russian embassies.
Political support was offered by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, François Hollande, Ban Ki-moon and Hillary Clinton. Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners called for their release, including Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi and Lech Walesa.
It is heartening to note that this outpouring of global support can make a difference even in a country as corrupt as modern day Russia.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
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