It is bitterly ironic that as the world celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday as International Non-Violence Day, 30 non-violent, peaceful protestors sat locked up in jail cells in Russia. Yesterday, 13 activists and one freelance videographer were formally charged with piracy, and today the remainder. Now all 28 activists and crew, plus a freelance photographer and videographer, have been unjustly charged with piracy simply for trying to — as Gandhi once famously said — be the change they want to see in the world.
At Greenpeace, we subscribe to the same set of beliefs that Gandhi lived; non-violence is at the absolute core of all of our work to defend the planet. His teachings have inspired civil rights leaders from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to the Dalai Lama and Rosa Parks, and for more than a hundred years now, peaceful activists everywhere. To this day, the head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, quotes Gandhi virtually every time he speaks: “First they ignore you; then they ridicule you; then they fight you; then you win.”
He would say that since they’re fighting us, we’re one step closer to winning.
But the fight to protect this planet from those that would exploit it has never been a fair one. Year after year, campaign after campaign, courageous activists all over the world choose time and again to put their personal liberty on the line to give voice to the voiceless, to even the playing field, to force governments to act where they have failed, and to speak truth to hugely powerful forces. They do this because the political system is disempowering; because they are tired of greed dictating our futures and industry controlling our governments; because time is running out and they feel they have a duty to act.
They act peacefully, and with the courage of their conviction. They are always non-violent. They bend rules when they feel they are unjust and they push boundaries to expose injustices and get important issues put on the table. There is often a legal response, and our activists take full responsibility for their actions. But never before has a reaction to a peaceful protest been so disproportionate, so wholly absurd as this one.
In the last 13 days since the Arctic Sunrise was seized, legal and human rights experts all over the world have risen up, unsolicited, to denounce these preposterous charges; over 60 NGOs and hundreds of influential people all over the world have spoken out in support of the activists, and more than 800,000 letters have been sent to Russian embassies. Countless individuals from every conceivable walk of life have joined the cry to free the Arctic 30 because they know as we do that these charges are bigger than 30 people — they are an assault on peaceful protest, on the value of non-violence, on democracy everywhere.
Yesterday, after the first two piracy charges were announced in a court in Murmansk, Russia, Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International, said:
“A charge of piracy is being laid against men and women whose only crime is to be possessed of a conscience. This is an outrage and represents nothing less than an assault on the very principle of peaceful protest. Any claim that these activists are pirates is as absurd as it is abominable. It is utterly irrational, it is designed to intimidate and silence us, but we will not be cowed.
"This is now the most serious threat to Greenpeace’s peaceful environmental activism since agents of the French secret service bombed the Rainbow Warrior and killed our colleague Fernando Pereira because we stood against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific. Three decades later the activists of the Arctic Sunrise also took a stand, this time against the powerful vested interests of the oil industry, and they could now face the prospect of long periods in a Russian jail. I call on people from across the world, anybody who ever raised their voice in support of something they believe in, and especially the good people of Russia, to come to their aid at this moment and join us in demanding the release of the Arctic 30.
“The courageous crew of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise protested at that Gazprom rig because they felt compelled to bear witness to the slow but unrelenting destruction of the Arctic. The ice is retreating, oil companies are moving north to drill for the fuels that are driving that melting, species are at risk, including our own. Thirty men and women, some young, others not-so-young, all with a moral compass, actually did something about it. Just as in years past, the resolve and courage required to win a better future for our children requires personal sacrifice, a sacrifice the Arctic 30 are now making. They made their stand in the interests of us all. Now we must come together and stand with them.”
The 28 activists, a freelance photographer and a freelance videographer, were involved in a protest against the Gazprom Arctic drilling platform Prirazlomnaya on September 18th. Two activists tried to climb the side of the platform and hang a banner. Today Greenpeace is releasing photographs of the moment Russian security services abseiled from a helicopter onto the deck of the Arctic Sunrise and seized the ship at gunpoint. The photographs clearly show peaceful activists posing no threat to the Russian authorities.
"I ask people to look at those photographs and decide if the peaceful campaigners with their arms raised, with guns pointed at their chests, could ever be described as pirates."
Join us. Help us #FreetheArctic30.
Jess Wilson is the Communications Manager for the Arctic campaign.