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Greenpeace activists could face terrorism or piracy charges, Russian official say

It's been more than 48 hours since armed Russian security officers boarded the Arctic Sunrise and arrested around 30 Greenpeace activists following a protest against oil drilling in Arctic waters. Details are still sketchy but the Greenpeace ship is apparently now being towed by the Russian coastguard to the nearest harbor with the ship's crew being held onboard at gunpoint.

"They used violence against some of us, they were hitting people, kicking people down, pushing people," said Faiza Oulahsen in a phone call from the ship before communications were cut.

Russian officials have accused Greenpeace of "aggressive and provocative" behavior during the oil drilling protest earlier this week. Liliya Moroz, a representative of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Murmansk region, has said to local media that the activists could now face terrorism or piracy charges. If charged with terrorism the activists could face a minimum of 10 years in prison. Greenpeace have been unable to make contact with their activists onboard the Arctic Sunrise and they have not yet received no official confirmation from Russian security services.

"This is the clear detention of people against their will," said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy department at Greenpeace Russia. "Terrorism is a very serious crime."

FSB has said that they've been co-ordinating actions with the Russian foreign ministry and energy giant Gazprom "to protect the safety of the crew on the platform and defend the interests of the Russian Federation in the Arctic region."

But Greenpeace says these accusations are dishonest because the "unidentified object" was their safety pod, and it was brightly coloured and branded with the environmental organization's famous logo. Greenpeace have also said that the boarding was illegal because their ship was on international waters and outside the jurisdiction of Russian authorities.

Jasper Teulings, a Greenpeace lawyer told Reuters that "the only reason the ship can be boarded inside the EEZ, (exclusive economic zone) is when there is suspected breach of fisheries regulation or suspected substantial discharge in violation of environmental regulation. Neither is the case. Other grounds could be piracy or slavery, so it's clear that none of these apply."

Teulings also stressed that "the situation at the moment is actually unclear," and that we don't know yet whether the Greenpeace ship have been seized. "We would be surprised if it had been [seized], because that would have been illegal," Teulings said. "We do know that the ship is being held by the coastguard, and we are taking every step in our power at this moment, including international diplomacy, to ensure the swift release of the activists and we are in touch with their families."

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