Russia has replaced its charge of “piracy” against 30 Greenpeace campaigners detained in Murmansk with the charge of “hooliganism.” Hooliganism carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison, compared to the piracy charge’s fifteen. Hooliganism was charged in the well known case of the punk band “Pussy Riot” whose members were convicted and are currently serving prison sentences.
The Netherlands recently sought to use international maritime tribunals to void the piracy charges. However, Russia is not signatory to the dispute resolution process in the international law of the sea. Whether any argument can be made to bring the Russian crime of hooliganism under international law remains an interesting legal issue.
With the Russian judicial system’s 99% conviction rate, the hooliganism charge likely brings little comfort to the Greenpeace campaigners and their families. Up to seven years in Russian prison is a daunting prospect for these enviros who range in experience from professional seamen and campaigners to young people seeking an adventure. The family of one detained young woman said that she was only there, “hoping to see polar bears.”
Russia surprised many when it applied the piracy charges equally to everyone aboard Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise, whether they directly participated in the attempt to board the oil platform or not. Over time Russia may choose to treat those who organized or participated in the boarding attempt differently from those who were more along for the ride.
Does the change from piracy to hooliganism represent a softening of the Russian position which could continue, or is it a shift to a more realistic charge that might actually stick?
It is already snowing in Murmansk and before long it will be night there most hours of the day. Contrary to Greenpeace propaganda, polar bears are thriving in the Arctic and have been for decades. Unless the Russians continue to bend, these thirty Greenpeace campaigners are in for a rough first-hand lesson in how little the Arctic has actually warmed.