Russia must compensate the Netherlands for its seizure of a Greenpeace ship two years ago, which led to the arrest of 30 international environmental activists, a court in the Hague ruled on Monday.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled that Russia's September 2013 seizure of the Arctic Sunrise and the jailing of those on board was unlawful, and said the Netherlands "is entitled to compensation with interest for material damage" to the ship and the crew, who became known as the Arctic 30.
Activists had scaled an offshore oil rig owned by Russian energy company Gazprom in a protest against Arctic drilling. In response, Russian authorities intercepted Greenpeace's vessel in international waters and took the crew into custody at gunpoint, sparking international outcry over what many saw as excessive and hostile treatment of the peaceful demonstrators and journalists.
Russia returned the ship to the Netherlands last year, but not before detaining the activists for months.
Monday's ruling found that Russia had violated some of the requirements of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which had ordered authorities to promptly release the Arctic Sunrise and the protesters. Russia must also pay back the bail money raised by the Dutch people to free the detained protesters.
"Russia had failed to satisfy the 'promptness' of the requirements of the ITLOS," the PCA said, adding that this "amounted to a breach of Russia's obligations under the convention."
Greenpeace International counsel Daniel Simons said the ruling "sets an important precedent."
"Governments exist to uphold the rule of law, not to act as armed security agents for the oil industry," Simons said. "This kind of behavior is not limited to the Russian authorities; across the world environmental activists are facing serious intimidation from those who wish to silence them."
One of the protesters, Australian Colin Russell, was detained for three months. On Monday, he told ABC Australia that he had no regrets over his participation in the action. However, he added, the ruling "puts a closure to what happened on that day, but it really doesn't take away from the fact that the Russians have treated us in that way."
"We were basically given an amnesty for some crime that we never committed, and we were never tried for," he said.
Russell's wife Christine added, "I think it's a great step for freedom of speech. This is just vindication you know that it's not wrong to want to stand up and fight for the future of our planet."
Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told Agence France-Presse, "Freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate are issues of great importance to the Netherlands which we'll defend."