Greenpeace activists granted amnesty by Russian parliament

The 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists who were arrested in September after a peaceful protest against oil drilling in Arctic waters has been granted amnesty.

The Russian parliament has voted in favor of an amendment that extends an amnesty decree to people who have been charged with hooliganism. This amendment grants amnesty not just for the “Arctic 30”, but also for thousands of other Russians and high-profile people. These include Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhin, both members of the Russian feminist punk rock protest group Pussy Riot.

The amnesty grants freedom for the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists who were arrested on international waters following a peaceful protest at a Gazprom-operated Arctic oil platform three months ago. This also means that the legal proceedings against the “Arctic 30” are over and that the 26 non-Russian Greenpeace activists will be able to leave the country and travel back home to their families.

“I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place,” Peter Willcox, the Captain of the Arctic Sunrise, said. “We sailed north to bear witness to a profound environmental threat but our ship was stormed by masked men wielding knives and guns. Now it’s nearly over and we may soon be truly free, but there’s no amnesty for the Arctic.”

But the amnesty could also be seen as an acknowledgement of guilt, especially for the Russian activists.

“I’m relieved, but I’m not celebrating. I spent two months in jail for a crime I didn’t commit and faced criminal charges that were nothing less than absurd,” Ana Paula Maciel from Brazil said. “Right now my thoughts are with our Russian colleagues. If they accept this amnesty they will have criminal records in the country where they live, and all for something they didn’t do. All because we stood up for Arctic protection.”

The photo shows an Arctic 30 vigil outside the Russian embassy in Mexico.

Greenpeace and the “Arctic 30” received massive support following the arrests. Famous names such as Paul McCartney, Madonna, Jude Law, and many others called for the immediate release of the jailed activists. More than 2.6 million people also wrote to Russian embassies and Greenpeace themselves held around 860 protests in 46 countries worldwide.

The campaign to free the “Arctic 30” also received political support from Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Dilma Rousseff, François Hollande, Ban Ki-moon and Hillary Clinton. Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Desmond Tutu, Aung San Suu Kyi and Lech Walesa, likewise supported the campaign.

Jim Leape, director general of WWF International, said that he was “relieved” to hear that the Greenpeace activists had received amnesty but stressed that “they should never have been arrested” in the first place. “The Gazprom Prirazlomnoye project poses a huge threat to this fragile region,” he said. “While the case against the protesters may no longer exist, the issue of risky Arctic development remains, and needs to be addressed honestly by government, business and civil society.”

It is still unclear what will happen to the Arctic Sunrise, the iconic Greenpeace ship, which is still impounded in Murmansk. An international court has ordered for its release following a case brought by the Dutch government.

Greenpeace says that they have not been deterred from future protests against Gazprom and has vowed to continue with its campaign against oil drilling in the Arctic.


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Simon Leufstedt
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