Russian court remands last of Greenpeace Arctic oil protesters
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court has ordered eight remaining Greenpeace activists be held in custody for two months over a protest against Arctic offshore drilling, the environment advocacy group said on Sunday, dashing any hope some might be released quickly.
Authorities detained all 30 members of the pressure group who were aboard icebreaker the Arctic Sunrise when they broke up attempts to scale state-run Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya offshore oil platform on September 18.
Of those, 22 people, including a freelance photographer and crew members had already been remanded until November 24 while officials investigate charges of piracy which Greenpeace denies.
Piracy is punishable with up to 15 years of jail in Russia, although President Vladimir Putin said last week that the activists were clearly not pirates but had broken international law, suggesting they might end up facing less severe charges.
Greenpeace, which has described court proceedings as reminiscent of Soviet-era scare tactics, sees little sign of a shift from the Kremlin.
"From what we are seeing today in court in Murmansk, where eight more people were ordered to be held in custody for two months, nothing has altered the position of the authorities," head of the group's energy unit Vladimir Chuprov said in emailed comments.
"There was no assault, it was a peaceful protest of which (we) had warned the authorities," one of the activists, Dmitry Litvinov, told the court from an iron cage in a Murmansk courtroom.
Finnish activist Sini Saarela, one of the two people attempting to climb the platform, denied the charges of piracy.
"I am not a pirate," she said in the courtroom according to a Greenpeace Twitter account, @gp_sunrise. "Drilling for oil in ice is a tremendous threat to the environment all over the world."
Greenpeace says scientific evidence shows any oil spill from Prirazlomnaya would affect more than 3,000 miles of Russia's coastline.
Russia sees the Arctic as its vital area of economic interest and Putin has promised to increase Russia's military presence in the region.
(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; editing by Patrick Graham)