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Netherlands seeks release of Greenpeace activists in Hamburg court

A Hamburg-based court is deciding whether to order Russia to release 30 people detained during a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic. Detainees have been charged with hooliganism over the September 18 action.

In proceedings starting at 11 a.m. local time (0900 UTC) on Wednesday, the Netherlands is seeking a ruling by mid-November from Hamburg's International Tribune for the Law of the Sea (ITLS) to secure the provisional release of the detained activists.

On September 18, Russia arrested 30 people after activists attempted to scale the country's first Arctic offshore oil rig.

“We appreciate the Dutch government bringing this case and thank the tribunal for considering it," said Jasper Teulings, the international general counsel for Greenpeace, based in Amsterdam.

"The argument of the Netherlands is that in international waters, ships have the right to freedom of navigation and so this means they may not be boarded, inspected, detained or arrested except with the permission of the flag state," Teulings said.

"There are exceptions to this, but they are limited," he added

A Russian court has so far denied bail to all of those detained. They are being held prisoner in Russia.

Russia refuses participation

The Netherlands is also seeking to force Russia to release the activists' Dutch-flagged vessel, the Arctic Sunrise.

Russia has told the court it does not accept the Netherlands' case and will not participate in the proceedings.

The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea - which both the Netherlands and Russia have signed - established the court to settle maritime disputes. Technically, nations should consider the court's decisions binding; however, it has no enforcement powers.

Late last month, Russia's Investigative Committee reduced initial charges of piracy to hooliganism, cutting the maximum jail term from 15 years to seven, after President Vladimir Putin declared the activists not pirates.

However, last week, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reiterated Moscow's stance that the Greenpeace protest had posed a threat to the security of Russian workers and to the environment by disturbing work at the platform.

mkg/tj (Reuters, dpa)