Backing Greenpeace's fight to free the "Arctic 30" from Russian detention, a UN tribunal ordered Russian authorities on Friday to release the 28 activists and two freelance journalists along with the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and allow them to return to their home countries upon payment of a 3.6 million euro bond.
After the ruling, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo stated:
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.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea based in Hamburg was set up to rule on maritime disputes under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Russia was among the UN countries to ratify the agreement.
However, following the ruling the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the tribunal does not have jurisdiction over the matter and that it still needs to review the case.
According to Tribunal judge Ruediger Wolfrum, on the other hand, international maritime conventions state governments only have the power to arrest foreign ships in their exclusive economic zones if they are partaking in non-permitted fishing or research, as Reuters reports.
"This was not the case here," said Wolfrum. "I think we have reached a provisional decision that secures the rights of both sides."
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Although it was still unclear whether Russia is going to comply, Naidoo said the ruling "goes a long way towards rectifying the great injustice against the Arctic 30 and we welcome it with open hearts."
"Russia is now under an obligation to comply with the order," the group said in a press release. "The Russian Constitution itself states that international law forms an integral part of the Russian legal system and Russian courts are under an obligation to implement the order. Greenpeace therefore expects Russia to respect UNCLOS and the Tribunal, as it has done in the past."
Naidoo added, "Now that the Tribunal has ordered their release, I would remind you that President Putin recently said in a letter to the American people: ‘The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.’"
As of Friday, 29 of the 30 detained have been released from detention on bail through the Russian court system, but it has been unclear whether or not the international activists and photo journalists will be allowed to leave the country.
The Tribunal's ruling would allow their exit and would free the remaining Greenpeace member in prison, Colin Russell of Australia, whose detention was previously extended until February 24.
The group could still face charges of "hooliganism," which carries a sentence of up to 7 years, for their protest at an offshore drilling platform owned by the state-owned natural gas company Gazprom on September 18.