On Friday morning, local Greenpeace activists gathered to press for the release of Montreal activist Alexandre Paul. On September 19, Paul, along with 29 other crew members of the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise, was arrested by the Russian Coast Guard while protesting against commercial oil exploration in the Bering Sea.
Although Greenpeace claims that the ship was located in international waters at the time of the detainment, Russian forces allegedly boarded the ship armed with live firearms and arrested the activists after they tried to board an oil platform owned by the state-controlled Russian energy giant Gazprom.
A Russian judge ruled Thursday morning that the 30 activists will remain in detention without charges for 2 months pending a piracy investigation. Greenpeace believes the arrests are politically motivated.
“It was a peaceful protest,” Greenpeace Canada spokesperson Diego Creimer told The Daily, noting that the first arrests made were those of two activists trying to attach a type of survival pod to the oil platform. “The morning after [the first arrests] they boarded with a helicopter and armed forces [...] and detained everyone on board.”
Nicole Paul, mother of activist Alexandre Paul, spoke at Friday’s demonstration about the treatment her son has been facing in Russian custody. “I think they are being treated as if they were terrorists,” Nicole Paul said in French. “They are being treated like criminals.”
Nicole Paul also pointed out the overreaction of the Russian forces. “When [the Russian Coast Guard] boarded the boat with firearms it was completely disproportionate to the action [the Greenpeace activists] had taken,” she told The Daily in French. “The demonstrators were pacifists, they never did anything to harm people.”
“What we have seen is that clearly [the activists] have been detained with no legal basis,” Patrick Bonin, Climate-Energy and Arctic Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said in French. “There is no reason, no basis for keeping these people in conditions that we do not know.”
“Obviously the stress is enormous for the families [of the activists], and for the people who are here today,” Bonin continued, calling on the Russian consulate to release the activists.
Nicolas Mainville, Director of Greenpeace Quebec, took a moment to address the political aspects of the situation. “It is very important that embassies around the world continue to pressure” Russia to release the activists, Mainville said in French, adding, “we have a role here in Canada to continue to push; we are obviously in solidarity with the families of the activists.”
Following the speeches, Mainville and Nicole Paul rang the doorbell of the Russian consulate to deliver a letter calling for the release of the activists. Despite a sign on the gate indicating the consulate was open, there was no response. Attempts by Mainville and others to telephone the consulate were also met with silence.
Greenpeace is currently collecting signatures on a petition calling for the release of the activists, and is planning larger-scale protests for October 5.