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Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Page: 934

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (09:48): On 18 September, activists from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise attempted to attach a banner to a Gazprom oil platform in the Russian Arctic. After firing warning shots and detaining two activists under armed guard, Russian authorities then seized the ship, which was in international waters, and towed it to Murmansk. Among them is the Australian Colin Russell and a number of my constituents have raised his situation with me. As David Ritter, from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, has said in a letter to federal MPs, 'These charges are a manifestly disproportionate response to a peaceful protest.' Indeed, there have been some robust responses by some other governments and parliaments and I urge the Australian government to match them.

The Arctic Sunrise is a Dutch-flagged ship and on 21 October the Dutch government initiated arbitration proceedings against Russia through the International Convention of the Law of the Sea. The British ambassador in Moscow has raised the case with Russia's deputy foreign minister; and the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has met the Greenpeace UK Executive Director to discuss the arrest of six British nationals. A fortnight ago, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, told BBC Radio:

Their charges have been dropped from piracy to hooliganism, but I still think that is excessive. They are not hooligans, they are protesters …

The French government released a statement, in the lead-up to high-level talks between the French Prime Minister, the Russian prime minister and the Russian President, which read:

France wants the Greenpeace activists to be released as soon as possible, especially the French national. By putting it on the agenda we will show that this subject is followed in France at the highest level. But we can not imagine that the French intervention alone can solve the situation of more than 10 nationalities.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, spoke to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, by phone and expressed concerns, despite the fact that no Germans have been detained. The chancellor's spokesman said:

The chancellor expressed her concern to Mr Putin over the arrest of the crew of the Greenpeace boat, impounded in Russia, and voiced her hope that this case will soon be resolved.

The European parliament released a statement saying that the charges, while they may be switched to hooliganism, are still disproportionate. The statement stressed that the charges could be seen as threats to democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of demonstration.

I urge the Russian government to drop these charges. Just as the Greenpeace activists have made their point, so too the Russian government has responded by making its point. After over two months, it is high time that Colin Russell and the other Greenpeace activists were released. I strongly support the statement of the opposition concerning this matter.