ARTICLE 19 welcomes today’s decision from the European Court of Human Rights (the European Court) concerning action taken by the Russian authorities against Greenpeace activists and two journalists in 2013 following a protest opposing Gazprom’s oil-drilling plans in the Arctic. The European Court found their detention had amounted to an interference with their freedom to express their opinion on a matter of significant environmental interest concerning the effects of oil drilling and exploitation.
The case of Bryan and others v. Russia, the so-called ‘Arctic 30’ case, concerns the arrest of 28 Greenpeace activists who staged a protest on board the Arctic Sunrise vessel in 2013, and two freelance journalists covering the protest. In the domestic proceedings, the Regional Court refused to consider Kieron Bryan, one of the freelance journalists on board, as a journalist because, as the court established, ‘he had no employment contract with any foreign publisher and was not accredited as a journalist on the territory of Russia’.
In the proceedings at the European Court, the activists and journalists complained their arrest and pre-trial detention had been arbitrary and illegal and that the Russian authorities violated their rights to liberty and security (under Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights) and the right to freedom of expression (under Article 10 of the Convention). Today, the European Court ruled in their favour and found the violation of both rights.
Barbora Bukovská, Senior Director for Law and Policy at ARTICLE 19, commented:
‘The European Court decision gives a strong signal to Russia that violations of the right to protest in the form of non-violent direct action cannot be tolerated. Non-violent direct action in response to environmental issues are acts of conscience grounded in a desire to improve society and raise awareness of threats to humanity.
‘As for freelance journalists on board the Arctic Sunrise, we have long argued for protection of those performing the “public watchdog” role in protest. The imposition of sanctions against journalists who are observing and collecting information at protests significantly deters journalists from carrying out their journalistic work. It creates a severe chilling effect on them.
‘Sadly, the case against Arctic 30 is emblematic of the situation for environmental activists and journalists covering environmental issues in Russia. They are subject to frequent physical and legal threats and various forms of harassment. The Russian authorities often misuse the provisions on “hooliganism” in the Criminal Code to silence opponents and human rights defenders.’
The case concerns the arrest and detention of 28 activists and two freelance journalists, Mr Kieron Bryan and Mr Denis Sinyakov, in connection with a peaceful protest on a Greenpeace vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, in the international waters of the Kara Sea. The protest was part of Greenpeace’s ‘Save the Arctic’ campaign, which aimed to ban offshore oil-drilling and industrial fishing in Arctic waters. The activists aimed to peacefully protest on the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform of Gazprom (a large Russian state-owned company).
In September 2013, the activists attempted to scale the platform but were attacked by the nearby Russian Coast Guard ship in international waters. Subsequently, the Arctic Sunrise was forcibly placed under the control of the Russian authorities and the ship was towed to Murmansk in Russia. The activists and journalists were arrested, detained and prosecuted by the Russian authorities under suspicion of the crime of piracy, which was later amended to a charge of hooliganism. Following an amnesty from the Russian Parliament, the proceedings against the activists were later discontinued on 24 and 25 December 2013.
In 2014, the activists and journalists filed a case with the European Court arguing that the detention and the imprisonment for peaceful protest violated their rights under the European Convention.
Subsequently, The Netherlands (the country represented on the Arctic Sunrise’s flag) and Russia entered into arbitration proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in which Russia refused to participate, citing lack of jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal over it. The Netherlands was awarded 5.4 million euros (EUR), including compensation for the applicants, which Russia refused to pay; eventually a confidential settlement agreement was reached. The Netherlands transferred EUR 2.7 million to Greenpeace, of which the activists received EUR 605,000 (about EUR 20,000 each)
Importantly, although the Russian Federation is no longer a party to the European Convention of Human Rights, the European Court found that it still had jurisdiction to deal with the case, as the facts giving rise to the alleged violations of the Convention had taken place before 16 September 2022 (the date on which Russia ceased to be a Party to the European Convention).
ARTICLE 19, jointly with Media Defence, intervened in the case.