Two Britons held in Russia for a Greenpeace protest were ordered to remain in pre-trial detention on Friday, a defeat for the first of the many foreigners among the 30 detainees to seek bail.
Freelance videographer Kieron Bryan and Greenpeace activist Phillip Ball, who, like the others, face piracy charges, had appealed against their detention through late November. The court, in the northern port city of Murmansk, had already denied bail to four Russians held for the Sept. 18 protest in which a Greenpeace boat was boarded by security forces close to an oil rig in the Arctic.
The arrests and the piracy charges - punishable by up to 15 years in prison - appear aimed at deterring protests and sending a message that Moscow will not tolerate any such actions. Other countries and companies are seeking to exploit Arctic energy resources and face similar concerns from environmentalists.
A Finnish minister resigned on Friday over a row about a Greenpeace protest last year. Some activists had tried to scale the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnaya rig which is an important part of Russia's plans to develop the resource-rich Arctic, a move Greenpeace says could destroy a pristine environment. Investigators have said more charges will be pressed against some protesters after drugs and other suspect items were found on the boat, the Arctic Sunrise. Greenpeace denies there were illegal items aboard.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the activists were not pirates but that they violated international law. The head of the Kremlin's advisory body on human rights has said he would ask prosecutors to withdraw the piracy charges. Greenpeace says the protest was peaceful and calls the piracy charges absurd and unfounded. Those arrested include American, Argentinian, Australian, Canadian, Danish, Dutch, French, Italian, New Zealand, Swiss and Turkish citizens, Greenpeace says. In neighbouring Finland, a government minister who had appeared sympathy to Greenpeace in a separate Arctic protest, resigned.
Heidi Hautala, minister for international development who is also in charge of overseeing state ownership in companies was criticised by colleagues and the media for trying to dissuade state-owned shipping firm Arctia Shipping from filing a criminal complaint against the protest group. Protesters scaled an Arctia icebreaker, contracted by Shell, in Helsinki last year to demonstrate against Arctic drilling. Hautala, a member of Finland's Green Party, said she thought a state-owned firm should seek dialogue rather than legal action. "I feel, however, that it would be very difficult for me to work in this role and therefore I see that it is best solution that I resign," she said.