Amsterdam – The European Court of Human Rights issued its ruling today in the long-running case of the Arctic 30 v Russia, finding that Russian authorities arbitrarily detained the 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists and violated their right to freedom of expression.
The group who became known as the Arctic 30 were detained on suspicion of piracy after Russian commandos boarded the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise from a helicopter in September 2013 and seized the ship, following a protest against Arctic oil production at the ice-resistant platform Prirazlomnaya in the Pechora Sea, off Russia’s north coast. They spent two months in detention centres – first in the Arctic city of Murmansk and later in St Petersburg – before being released on bail and finally freed altogether and allowed to leave Russia.
Sergey Golubok, legal counsel for the Arctic 30, welcomed the ruling: “At a time when authorities in many states are taking previously unheard of harsh action against climate activists, the European Court of Human Rights is sending a clear signal to European states that defending the environment is desirable and people’s right to protest must be protected.”
Faiza Oulahsen, climate and energy campaign lead at Greenpeace Netherlands and one of the Arctic 30, said: “This ruling couldn’t come at a more critical moment. People everywhere are rising up in resistance against the fossil fuel industry which is driving us deeper into the climate crisis, causing death, destruction and displacement around the world. The court has recognised the truth that climate activism is necessary to protect everything that is dear to us, stating it is “an expression of opinion on a matter of significant social interest”. Courts and governments must defend people and nature, not big polluters.”
Mads Flarup Christensen, Executive Director, Greenpeace International said: “Peaceful protest is vital in addressing and navigating the polycrisis affecting people and the planet. As people everywhere awaken to the blight of private profit and power being placed before their interests or that of the planet, the European Court of Human Rights reminds us that peaceful public protest is a right that public authorities must respect in full.”
Harsh measures taken against peaceful environmental protesters this year include climate activists sentenced to three years in prison for scaling a bridge in the UK, and five months for blocking a road in Germany, as well as ‘preventative arrests’ of XR activists in the Netherlands.
Last month, Greenpeace International was designated an “undesirable organisation” by Russian authorities, prompting Greenpeace Russia to close its operation ending 30 years of environmental work in the country. In a statement Greenpeace International said: “The ban on Greenpeace International activities in Russia is an absurd, irresponsible and destructive step in the face of the global climate and biodiversity crises.”
Russia was excluded from the Council of Europe in March 2022, including the European Court of Human Rights, but this did not affect pending cases.
Photo and video of Arctic 30 events is available in the Greenpeace Media Library.
 The full court ruling in the case of Bryan and Others v Russia (commonly known as Arctic 30 v Russia) is available on the European Court of Human Rights website. The arguments lodged on behalf of the Arctic 30 are on the Greenpeace International website.
 Seizure of the Arctic Sunrise and its crew also triggered a legal dispute under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. In 2015, an international tribunal held that Russia had violated the rights of the Netherlands as the vessel’s flag State and ordered it to pay compensation. The dispute between the Netherlands and Russia was settled in 2019. The European Court of Human Rights decided not to award additional compensation to the Arctic 30 in view of the sum they received after this settlement.
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