The Dutch government on Monday asked [request, PDF] the UN-backed International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) [official website] to order Russia to return a ship used by Greenpeace International [advocacy website] and the activists who were arrested on board the ship [activist profiles]. The ship had been used to stage a protest over oil drilling. The 28 activists and two journalists are now being detained in Russia and have been accused of piracy, a crime which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The Netherlands filed a suit against Russia [JURIST report] to release the activists earlier this month. Tuesday's request to release the activists pending conclusion of the case was a procedural step, which asked for provisional measures to be taken. It is expected that it will take at least a month for the ITLOS to respond to the request.
The activists, two of whom are Dutch citizens, were detained by Russia last month when they attempted to board an oil rig in protest of Russia's oil drilling practices and were all charged with piracy [CNN report] last week. The charges have drawn criticism from rights groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website, press release] as well as other countries. During the plenary session of the Third International Arctic Forum held in Salekhard last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website, in Russian; JURIST news archive] acknowledged [RT report] that the activists were not pirates but noted that their actions in trying to take over the Prirazlomnaya were a violation of international law which could have resulted in an oil spill or other dangers to public lives and health. Putin further stated that Greenpeace members could have attended the Arctic Forum and voiced their concerns at that time.