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Peace Prize Winners to Putin: Release the 'Arctic 30'

Eleven Nobel laureates sign letter to Russian president to uphold international law and free environmental activists

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Eleven Nobel Peace Prize winners have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure that "excessive charges of piracy" laid against 30 Greenpeace activists are dropped, Greenpeace said on Thursday. (Photo: AFP/Miguel Medina)An open letter signed by eleven Nobel Peace Prize laureates to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday is calling for the Russian government to immediately drop the piracy charges and release the 28 Greenpeace activists and two documentarians who were taken into custody last month in the aftermath of a peaceful protest against Arctic drilling off the Russian coast.

The signatories, including Arch Bishop Desmond TuTu and US peace campaigner Jody Williams, called on Putin to treat the international crew—now known as the “Arctic 30”—in accordance with international law and warned against pursuing charges that would criminalize peaceful protest.

"We, like millions of people around the world, are watching this case, eager to see Russian authorities drop the piracy charges, treat the 'Arctic 30' in accordance with international law, reaffirm the right to nonviolent protest, and rededicate efforts to protect the Arctic." —from the letter

In the letter to Putin, the peace campaigners highlighted the importance of Greenpeace's ongoing campaign to stop oil and gas drilling in the world's northern seas, calling the recently opened waters where exploratory drilling is now underway a sign of the terrible impacts already being caused by global warming.

"Arctic oil drilling is a dangerous, high-risk enterprise," the letter reads. "An oil spill under these icy waters would have a catastrophic impact on one of the most pristine, unique and beautiful landscapes on earth. The impact of a spill on communities living in the Arctic, and on already vulnerable animal species, would be devastating and long lasting. The risks of such an accident are ever present, and the oil industry’s response plans remain wholly inadequate."

As for the activists, and the one photographer and one videographer arrested with them, their attempts to receive bail or be released pending trial have been rebuffed. If convicted, they face sentences of 15 years in prison.

In The Netherlands, where Greenpeace International's home offices are located, legal action has been initiated to try to free the crew members and their ship, The Arctic Sunrise. In addition, more than 1.4 million people across the globe have joined a special Greenpeace campaign under the banner of #FreeTheArctic 30.

In a statement in response to the letter from Putin's office, the president's press secretary said Putin simply has no power to influence the decision of the courts.

"Investigative bodies deal with [criminal charges]," said Putin spokeperson, Dmitry Peskov, "and everyone should wait for the end of the investigation process and the court's verdict."

"A law is a law," he said.

The complete letter from the Nobel laureates follows (via Greenpeace):

Dear President Putin,

RE: Drop piracy charges & immediately release the “Arctic 30”

We are writing to ask you to do all you can to ensure that the excessive charges of piracy against the 28 Greenpeace activists, freelance photographer and freelance videographer are dropped, and that any charges brought are consistent with international and Russian law. We are confident that you share our desire to respect the right to nonviolent protest.

As you know, Russian authorities have detained 30 members of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise crew since September 19 when armed Russian authorities boarded the vessel in the Pechora Sea. The crew—which includes Russians and numerous other nationalities—had been engaged in a peaceful, nonviolent protest.

We were heartened by your statement, on September 25th, that you did not believe the Greenpeace crew members were pirates. As you know, the Greenpeace activists were unarmed and used only peaceful means to demonstrate their opposition to the oil drilling operations threatening the Arctic.

Arctic oil drilling is a dangerous, high-risk enterprise. An oil spill under these icy waters would have a catastrophic impact on one of the most pristine, unique and beautiful landscapes on earth. The impact of a spill on communities living in the Arctic, and on already vulnerable animal species, would be devastating and long lasting. The risks of such an accident are ever present, and the oil industry’s response plans remain wholly inadequate.

Equally important is the contribution of Arctic oil drilling to climate change. Climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere threatens all of us, but it is the world’s most vulnerable who are paying the price for developed countries’ failure to act. Now is the time to accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels and move towards a future built on safe, clean and renewable energy.

We urge all states to do their utmost to protect this precious treasure of humanity, while moving beyond a dependency on oil as an energy source. As one of the countries most directly concerned, we call on you to personally lead that effort.

We, like millions of people around the world, are watching this case, eager to see Russian authorities drop the piracy charges, treat the “Arctic 30” in accordance with international law, reaffirm the right to nonviolent protest, and rededicate efforts to protect the Arctic.

Sincerely,

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976) — Northern Ireland
Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate (1976) — Northern Ireland
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Laureate (1980) — Argentina
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate (1984) — South Africa
Oscar Arias Sánchez, Nobel Peace Laureate (1987) - Costa Rica
Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Laureate (1992) — Guatemala
José Ramos Horta, Nobel Peace Laureate (1996) — East Timor
Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate (1997) — USA
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate (2003) — Iran
Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Laureate (2011) — Yemen
Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate (2011) — Liberia

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