Earlier this evening Russian authorities offered the Arctic 30 — currently being held in a freezing jail in Murmansk — what looked like a legal olive branch by dropping piracy charges and replacing them with ones of "hooliganism."*
On the face of it, and compared to piracy, hooliganism sounds innocuous enough, more like a crime of youthful over-exuberance, akin to graffiti or streaking at a football match.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Russia has simply dropped* one serious charge and replaced it with another that still carries the very real prospect of the Arctic 30 languishing in jail for up to seven years.
In Russia, there are two kinds of hooliganism: administrative hooliganism, which carries a maximum of 15 days in prison and a fine, or criminal hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years. We think it's the latter our friends are being charged with.
Not incidentally, President Putin's human rights advisor Mikhail Fedotov recently said the piracy charges were "laughable" and that they should, at most, include minor hooliganism.
Perhaps a hooliganism charge seems more palatable than a piracy charge, but in fact it's equally ridiculous to accuse these peaceful protesters of hooliganism as it is to accuse them of piracy.
In Russian law, hooliganism is defined as 'any deliberate behavior that violates public order and expresses explicit disrespect toward society.'
And it should be noted that hooliganism is also an illegal charge, as in order for the Russian criminal code to apply, the alleged crime — such as hooliganism — has to occur on Russian territory. The likely reason the 30 were charged with piracy in the first place is that that is one of the few offences that would justify an arrest in the EEZ, according to international law. Hooliganism doesn't. This is therefore another violation by the Investigative Committee against the Arctic 30.
Breaking down the definition of hooliganism: was the peaceful action of the Arctic 30 "deliberate"? Sure, if you mean they were deliberately trying to help avert catastrophic climate change and stand up for millions of people around the world who think drilling in the Arctic is climate insanity.
Did they "violate public order and expresses explicit disrespect toward society"?
On the contrary, they were acting for the greater good of society — and not just in Russia where we know an oil spill at the Prirazlomnaya could devastate 3,000 km of coastline and reach three protected nature reserves within days.
No, not just for Russia, but for other parts of the world, where extreme weather events are coming with greater strength and frequency thanks to the drastic retreat of Arctic sea ice; for Australia, where forest fires rage into "mega-fires" thanks to a quickly warming climate; for Bangladesh, where people are forced to move their homes and families inland, losing their livelihoods as sea levels rise; for Pakistan, struggling against floods caused by climate change and the ensuing disease that comes with no fresh water; for Mexico, where the most disadvantaged are experiencing larger and more frequent natural disasters than ever before in history, like landslides and floods; for the US, where super hurricanes devastate the east coast and fires ravage the west; for China, where vast desertification is turning lush farmlands into moonscapes.
The Arctic 30 were acting in defiance of the greed of massive, rich, relentless oil companies around the world who will stop at nothing, who will heed no warning, in the desperate quest for the last drops of oil on the planet.
We need more than 30 people brave enough to do this. We need the Arctic 30 million, people around the world with enough courage, enough conviction, to stand up for all of us and demand change in the face of apathy, and force governments to act where they have failed.
As the media scurries to keep up with each new development, let us not forget why the Arctic 30 really did what they did. Why they put everything on the line for what they believe in, for the future of their children — for the future of yours.
They stood for you. Now stand with them. Free the Arctic 30.
* When this blog was posted, we had been told the piracy charges were being dropped. However weeks later (now Nov. 7) the charges have still not been dropped. Currently the Arctic 30 are charged with both piracy and hooliganism.
Jess Wilson is the communications manager for the international Arctic campaign.