Judge Shunji Yanai gestures during the proclamation of sentence

Tribunal orders release of Arctic oil protesters

A maritime tribunal has ordered Russia to release a Greenpeace ship and 30 people arrested over an Arctic drilling protest.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg said today it had accepted a request from the Netherlands to order the provisional release of the Dutch-registered ship Arctic Sunrise and its crew, which Russia detained on September 18 upon payment of a €3.6m bond.

But the Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying the tribunal had no jurisdiction over its criminal prosecution of the 28 activists and two freelance journalists on-board the ship when it took part in an attempt to scale the Gazprom-owned offshore oil rig Prirazlomnaya in Arctic waters.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said: "Today is a historic day; a day when the fundamental rights of the Arctic 30 have been upheld by an international court of law. These 30 men and women were detained only because they stood up and courageously took peaceful action against Arctic oil drilling and to halt the devastating impacts of climate change.

"This ruling goes a long way towards rectifying the great injustice against the Arctic 30 and we welcome it with open hearts. Twenty-nine have now been granted bail by Russian courts, but this is not enough. This tribunal has clearly stated that all 30 should be free to leave Russia until the arbitral proceedings have been concluded."

Several of the 30 have been granted bail by the Russian authorities over the last two days, though some still remain in custody. Australian Colin Russell, a radio engineer, is the only one of the 30 to have been refused bail.

Tribunal judge and president of ITLOS Shunji Yanai of Japan said the application from the Netherlands for the provisional release had been accepted by the votes of 19 judges to two.

The tribunal was set up to adjudicate maritime disputes under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Russia and the Netherlands have ratified.

The 30 arrested had initially been charged with piracy, punishable in Russia by up to 15 years in prison, but this charge was downgraded to hooliganism which carries a maximum seven year sentence.

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