Following growing international indignation, the 28 jailed members of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise who've been detained for over a month by Russian authorities have now been moved to pre-trial detention centers in St. Petersburg — a vast improvement from where they were before in Murmansk, a dark and hard-to-access city north of Arctic circle. The detained crew, which includes dual U.S.-Swedish citizen Dima Litvinov, was arrested back in October, after they attempted to scale an oil rig operated by Cazprom.
The move comes amid growing concern over the treatment of the prisoners —who come from a total of 18 countries — and multiple protests over the arrests. Just last week, Greenpeace took over Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral, where they hung posters that read "Freedom," as well as photos of the Arctic 30. But Russia hasn't given an official reason for the transfer, hasn't said which pre-detention facilities will be holding the activists, or even whether they'll all be held at the same site. In Murmansk, the men were split and shared cells with Russian prisoners, while the women were held in single cells — it's still unclear whether they will be forced into the same situation again.
"The only sky I can see is out of my cell window, which is placed in the northern wall of the building. This means no sun at all, " one of the detained activists said from the Murmansk prison last month.
Only last week, another Russian prisoner made headlines for being "lost" in the country's penal system, prompting fears that a similar scenario would arise for the Arctic 30. Jailed Pussy Riot punk rocker Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who is currently finishing up her two year sentence, hasn't been seen or heard from in over 23 days — not since being transferred to a different Russian prison.
"I don't want the Arctic 30 to be split up and [the Russian authorities] saying 'Sorry we don't know where we sent that one.' I don't want any one of them 'lost' or to disappear. That would be absolutely heartbreaking," said Sue Turner, whose son Iain Rogers is a crew member of Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise.
The worry isn't without foundation. The Arctic crew, who were originally going to be charged with piracy (which carries a sentence of up to 15 years) are now charged with "hooliganism," which usually carries a sentence of seven years. The Pussy Riot members were also convicted of hooliganism just over a year ago, after staging a 40-second-long anti-government protest in Russia's Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the charges of "hooliganism" are "excessive" and Greenpeace has warned that it will start taking legal action by next week if Russian authorities continue to extend the crewmembers' detention.