Greenpeace said Wednesday that 14 of its activists who were detained after protesting at a Russian oil platform have been charged with piracy, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The environmental activists from Argentina, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia and Sweden were among 30 people from 18 countries who were on board the Greenpeace ship Artic Sunrise, which was seized by the Russian coast guard following the Sept. 18 protest.
Two of the activists had tried to scale an offshore platform owned by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to call attention to the environmental risks of drilling in Arctic waters.
"Peaceful activism is vital when governments fail to respond to catastrophic climate change, and this disproportionate response is purely to intimidate people who stand up to companies and countries that are causing global warming," Greenpeace said.
More activists were expected to be formally charged on Thursday and Friday, Greenpeace said. All 30 were being held in jails in Murmansk, a port above the Arctic Circle.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that he does not think the Greenpeace activists are pirates, which triggered hopes for their release.
But Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday urged energy companies to adopt more stringent security measures, and said the government should consider tougher penalties for those who attack or trespass on the grounds of Russia’s oil and gas infrastructure.
"Concern for the environment must not cover up unlawful actions, whatever lofty goals the people who were taking part in them espoused," Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying.
The platform, which belongs to Gazprom's oil subsidiary, is the first offshore rig in the Arctic. It was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011, but its launch has been delayed by technological challenges. Gazprom said in September that it was to start pumping oil this year, but no date has been set.
The investigators said that the Greenpeace ship had violated the 500-meter (500-yard) security zone around the platform, and that it was carrying equipment whose purpose was still unclear. Greenpeace has insisted that its ship stayed out of this zone and that the inflatable boats used by activists to reach the platform posed no danger.
The activists charged on Wednesday were called into the offices of the Investigative Committee separately and presented with the formal charges in the presence of their lawyers, Greenpeace said.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press