Total Pageviews

Friday, September 27, 2013

Russian News Sites Protest Detention of Journalists With Greenpeace Activists

A Russian court on Thursday ordered that 22 members of the Greenpeace team that protested Arctic drilling by trying to scale a state-run oil rig may spend up to two months in detention in a Murmansk jail, while investigators decide whether to charge them with committing an act of piracy.

Among the activists were two journalists: Kieron Bryan, a British videographer who formerly worked for The Times of London, and Denis Sinyakov, a well-known Moscow-based freelance photographer, whom their colleagues and international organizations say have been jailed for merely doing their jobs. Mr. Sinyakov is a former Reuters photojournalist who has been granted behind-the-scenes access by protest groups including Pussy Riot and Femen.

Reporters Without Borders called on the Russian government to release both photojournalists. And more than a dozen independent Russian media sites responded to the detention of Mr. Sinyakov with a literal blackout: covering all the images on their sites with black squares on Friday as a sign of protest.

The protest included Russia’s most popular radio station, Ekho Moskvy; popular magazines, including one of the country’s top photography weeklies; an Internet television station; the independent newspaper that published Anna Politkovskaya’s writings; and several of Russia’s most popular Internet sites.

For a short time even NTV, a conservative, pro-Kremlin television station that has shown vitriolic documentaries against Russian opposition leaders, joined the protest, to the surprise of many.

Critics have contended that the Russian government overreacted to the protest last week. Many pointed at video recorded by the Russian Coast Guard that showed two of the activists dangling precariously from the oil platform as pressurized water slammed against them from above and law enforcement members tugged on them from below.

Video of the Greenpeace action released by the Russian Coast Guard.

“I’m coming down! I’m coming down!” one of the activists, Sini Saarela from Finland, could be heard yelling above the roar of the waves in the video.

Ms. Saarela was one of eight members of the 30-person crew who still has not been formally arrested by a Russian court, though she remains in police custody.

The police opened an investigation into the protest on Tuesday, and a spokesman for the powerful state Investigative Committee said that all of the participants in the protest, regardless of nationality, would be investigated for what he called an “encroachment on the sovereignty” of Russia.

Mr. Sinyakov, pictured handcuffed in a cage for criminal defendants, argued that he had not participated in the demonstration or broken the law, according to Yulia Bragina of Sky News.

A judge decided that Mr. Sinyakov posed a flight risk, as he traveled regularly and did not have a place of residence in Murmansk. Mr. Sinyakov replied that he is an internationally published photographer with a wife and a child in Moscow. He offered to travel to Murmansk for the hearings. He also pointed out that his passport and equipment had been seized.

“My weapon is a camera,” he added. “I did not poke a hole in the boats, on the contrary, Greenpeace’s boats were punctured. I cannot answer for the actions of the captain of the icebreaker.”

Some journalists covering the hearing were struck by the sentence, the first of 30 decisions concerning the activists that were handed down. Some had traveled on the Greenpeace boat last year, when it carried out a similar demonstration at the same oil rig.

Other photographers began holding individual pickets outside the main office of the Investigative Committee, the only form of public protests that can be held in Russia without prior sanction. Among them was Mr. Sinyakov’s wife, Alina Zhiganova.

Ilya Varlamov, a photographer who is friends with Mr. Sinyakov and has one of Russia’s most popular photoblogs, said that photographers were usually released quickly by police when they were detained at protests.

“It seems like Denis just ended up in a dangerous spot; nobody was trying to figure out who was a journalist, who wasn’t,” Mr. Varlamov said by telephone. “This is the first time I remember something like this happening in Russia. Sure, there have been detentions of journalists, but they’d always release them.”

Mr. Varlamov said that Mr. Sinyakov had taken his place aboard the Arctic Sunrise at the last minute.

“The trip that he went on, that was supposed to be me,” Mr. Varlamov said. “Denis couldn’t go, he asked me if I could go and shoot. It didn’t work out for me, so Denis went, and this is what happened. It was probably supposed to be me in his place.”

Follow Andrew Roth on Twitter @ARothNYT.