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Environment

Netherlands seeks court assistance on Greenpeace activists in Russia

The Netherlands has asked the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to order Russia to release 30 people detained during an environmental protest. Judges have so far denied bail to all of them.

On Monday, the Netherlands announced hopes that a ruling from the Hamburg-based tribunal would secure the provisional release of the 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists aboard the Arctic Sunrise when Russian authorities detained it on September 18. Currently held in the northern Russian city of Murmansk, the passengers and crew of the Dutch-registered ship face piracy charges and jail terms of up to 15 years for their protest near a Gazprom oil platform against oil drilling in Arctic waters.

"It will come as no surprise to the Russian Federation," Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said Monday at an EU meeting in Luxembourg.

Provisional release would let the activists out of jail while they await their day in court on the piracy charges. The Dutch government, which first asked for arbitration in the case two weeks ago, announced that it had already nominated its chosen arbiter in the case. According to the Netherlands, Russia has until Nov. 3 to choose its arbiter and if it fails to so the tribunal's president could choose one instead.

In a statement, Greenpeace International welcomed the Dutch initiative and called on other governments with nationals among the activists "to step up their work to ensure the immediate release of the detainees."

Set up to adjudicate maritime disputes under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Russia and the Netherlands have signed, the international tribunal has heard 21 cases since its first in 1997.

mkg/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)