MOSCOW/LONDON (Reuters) - Russia shrugged off Dutch legal action over its detention and prosecution of Greenpeace activists for piracy on Saturday as protesters took to the streets internationally to call for the 30 detainees to be freed.
The Netherlands launched legal proceedings against Russia on Friday, saying it had unlawfully detained activists and others on the Dutch-registered ship last month as it protested against drilling in the Arctic.
Two Dutch citizens were among 30 people on board the Arctic Sunrise, which was seized by Russian authorities near the Prirazlomnaya offshore oil platform.
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov told state-run news agency RIA Novosti that Russia had repeatedly asked the Netherlands to halt what Russia said was “illegal activity” by the ship.
“Unfortunately, this was not done. Therefore, we have far more questions for the Dutch side than they can have for us,” RIA quoted Meshkov as saying.
“Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise was pure provocation.”
Russian authorities have pressed piracy charges, which could result in prison sentences of 15 years.
Greenpeace said it was holding up to 100 protests in about 48 countries on Saturday to call for the detainees to be freed.
In London up to 700 people demonstrated outside the Russian Embassy with six Britons among those arrested by Russia.
Actor Jude Law, who knows one of the arrested Britons through his children’s school, was among the protesters calling for Russia to release the detainees and condemning the charges of piracy as “ludicrous”.
“They go into these situations often expecting arrest and the arrests draw more attention which is a positive but ... the possibility of a 15-year prison stretch is beyond reason,” Law told the BBC.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has raised the case with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Officials said Britain’s concerns were based on “consular” issues of welfare.
The Dutch government contests the “unlawful manner” in which the ship was intercepted and is seeking the release of all its passengers, who include 28 activists and two freelance journalists.
Greenpeace says the activists had been engaged in a peaceful protest in international waters to highlight the environmental risks posed by drilling in Arctic waters.
The group says Russian officials boarded its icebreaker and detained activists at gunpoint after the group piloted motorboats toward an exploration vessel working for Russia’s top oil producer, the state-controlled Rosneft, and global major ExxonMobil.
Two activists also scaled the side of the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnaya platform, actions Russia’s Foreign Ministry said threatened security.
As well as the Dutch and British citizens, the group includes four Russians, two Argentines, two Canadians, two New Zealanders, a man with Swedish and U.S. citizenship and one national each from the United States, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.
The activists are currently being held in custody in the northern Russian city of Murmansk.
Reporting by Alessandra Prentice in Moscow; Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith in London; Editing by Andrew Roche