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Ending 2013: Russia’s Amnesty for Greenpeace crew and others …

  • December 19th, 2013
  • Posted by EU Australia

Greenpeace Arctic SunriseMembers of the “Arctic 30” dared to look forward to going home for Christmas, after the Russian Duma passed an amnesty law for prisoners (18.12.13), tightly worded but enough to apply to the Greenpeace activist group.

The Legislation, applying to such categories as persons guilty of victimless crimes, first-offenders, minors or  women with children, is expected to apply also to two members of the cultural-dissident rock group, ‘Pussy Riot’.







pussy riotMaria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (picture, campaigning) have served most of the way through two year sentences for “Hooliganism” after they disrupted a church service to criticise President Vladimir Putin. See Euaustralia Online, Battles over G20, 9.8.13.

The 28 Greenpeace members and two journalists had been campaigning against economic exploitation  of the Arctic region, as global warming melts the ice and exposes more of the sea, and the seabed to exploration.


Pirate ship euclidAt sea, some attempted to clamber onto a Russia oil rig on 18.9.13, bringing on the boarding of their ship, the Arctic Sunrise (picture at top), by armed men got up as Russian commandos.

Russian authorities confiscated the ship, sending it and the crew to Murmansk, where they spent an extended time in solitary confinement; charges of Piracy were prepared.

The feel of the Cold war intensified as a session on the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, on 22.11.13 in Hamburg, ruled 19-2 that the Arctic Sunrise and its full complement should be let go. The Netherlands had brought the action as the ship sailed under the Dutch flag; Russian and Ukrainian members of the Tribunal voted no.

The Russian government ignored the ruling, but the prisoners’ experience of the frigid gulag eased on 23.10.13 when the Piracy charge was changed to Hooliganism, carrying a possible seven years’ gaol. The group was transported to the relative warmth of a prison in St Petersburg, and later allowed out on stiff bail – in the order of $60000.

Russell, Colin - 2The last to get disentangled from the taciturn and stop-go bail system was the Australian in the group, Colin Russell of Tasmania, aged 59, ship’s radio operator — released on 29.11.13.

He told Fairfax media this week he was still uncertain of getting home by Christmas Day.  “The worst part of the whole journey has been the not knowing,” he said. “You can’t quite work out what’s going on.”


st petersburgNostalgia seemed to reign in Russia, whether in the hard, slow and obtuse system of prisons and state tribunals, to the attacks on the foreign campaigners as “hooligans”. Being a “hooligan” was a standard epithet in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe, applied to political offenders  — their protest actions said to be disturbing “good order” imposed by secret police.

Gaol terms for political offences could run to decades, with supplementary psychological torments. In earlier times, sentences could be arbitrarily extended. A prisoner after a long term inside, might be told on the scheduled day of release, they’d have to start again, as the full term had been re-imposed.

The outside world in the past had recourse to public diplomacy from  time to time, to impose pressure on the Moscow regime, usually if the regime was wanting some clear air to show-case a major event.

Billie Jean King Billie Jean King actionRedolent of those days, the United States this week announced it would be sending no senior government officials to Russia’s Winter Olympics, at Sochi, but would send two openly ‘gay’ persons, an official (the former Tennis champion Billie Jean Kingpictures) and a player (Caitlin Cahow, Ice Hockey).

The target of the gesture is the recent legislation in Russia, toughening up the pursuit and repression of homosexual citizens; the law bans “homosexual propaganda”; it’s being seen by Western governments as openly homophobic and an affront to human rights.

As well as the United States, the European Commission, France, Germany and Poland have declared they will not be sending high-ranking officials to the opening ceremony of the Games on 7.2.14.

The gaol amnesty was pronounced to mark the 20th anniversary of the new Russian constitution, written on democratic lines. Those wanting to see post-Soviet authorities fully ‘get it’ about democratic government, are offering their advice to the chef:-  still too much taste of gulag in this porridge, still not enough freedom.


Andrew Darby, Bailed Greenpeace activist Colin Russell reunited with family, SMH, Sydney, 30.11.13., (19.12.13).

Tanya L. Domi, Obama rightly joins political boycott of Winter Olympics, Aljazeera America, Doha, 18.12,13., (19.12.13).

DWE, Bonn, UN tribunal sides with Arctic Sunrise activists, 22.11.13., (19.12.13).

Pictures  Greenpeace,,