MOSCOW: Rock stars and celebrities joined a worldwide vigil on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in support of 30 Greenpeace activists whose jailing by Russia after a protest against Arctic oil drilling sparked a new row between Moscow and the West.
British actor Jude Law, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, The Clash guitarist Paul Simonon and Damon Albarn, frontman of British band Blur, joined about 1,000 people gathered outside the Russian embassy in London, as other protesters rallied in cities across the world.
Pressure has been mounting on Russia from activists and governments shocked by Moscow’s decision to level piracy charges against Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise crew.
“Sherlock Holmes” star Law voiced support for his friend Frank Hewetson, one of the activists.
Law said the activists “probably knew there would be an arrest involved and the threat of a conviction is probably part and parcel of the act of drawing attention to the drilling in the Arctic which we all know is an international problem which needs confronting.”
He called the piracy charges “ludicrous.”
But Russia displayed little inclination to show leniency on Saturday as it hit out at both Greenpeace and the Dutch government under whose flag the environmental lobby group’s ship sailed.
“Everything that happened with the Arctic Sunrise is a pure provocation,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov.
Russian authorities impounded the 950-ton icebreaker last month after it approached the world’s first oilrig in the pristine Barents Sea—the focus of energy companies from around the world.
A court in Russia’s northwestern region of Murmansk has since charged all the crew members—who come from 18 countries including Britain and the United States—with offenses that carry jail terms of up to 15 years.
The incident has set off a burgeoning diplomatic effort to secure the activists’ release despite Russia’s tough stance.
The Netherlands broke more than two weeks of silence about the case Friday by starting legal action under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea aimed at quickly freeing the crew.
Russia’s Meshkov fired back Saturday that the Dutch had been repeatedly warned about the dangers of the ship’s actions.
“In the past year-and-a-half, Russia has asked the Dutch side on many occasions . . . to forbid this ship’s actions,” Meshkov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
But several governments now appear ready to add the Greenpeace detentions to their growing log of complaints about Russia’s treatment of human rights issues under President Vladimir Putin.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she had expressed concern about her country’s crewmember during talks with another Russian deputy foreign minister on the sidelines of a regional forum in Bali.
The US State Department also said it was “monitoring the case very closely.”
At a protest in Sao Paolo, the mother of a Brazilian biologist who was among those jailed, urged President Dilma Rousseff to help secure her daughter’s release.
“I am making an appeal to our president so that she can intercede with Russia to secure the release of Ana Paula [Maciel] and her return home,” the mother, Rosangela Maciel, told Agence France-Presse.