The families of two Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia for the last six weeks following a protest at a drilling rig in the high Arctic say it is time for the Harper government to exert some political pressure.
Paul Ruzycki, of Port Colborne, Ont., and Montrealer Alexandre Paul were among 30 activists detained Sept. 18 when Russian paramilitaries stormed their ship in international waters.
The pair initially faced charges of piracy which have since been reduced to hooliganism – but they still face possible sentences of up to seven years in prison.
Ruzycki’s sister Patti Stirling told a news conference Wednesday on Parliament Hill that she was “incredibly buoyed” when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird helped secure the release of a Canadian doctor and filmmaker detained in Egypt, but she has seen no such political effort on behalf of the environmental activists in Russia.
Stirling and others noted that British Prime Minister David Cameron, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and former U.S. secretary of state Hilary Clinton, among other leaders, have all spoken out about Russia’s treatment of their citizens caught up in the seizure of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise.
“Canada cannot remain conspicuously silent,” said Alex Neve of Amnesty International.
They noted the contrast with Baird’s vocal interventions this fall on behalf of John Greyson and Tarek Loubani, who were held for weeks by Egyptian police after witnessing brutality at anti-government riots.
“Paul Ruzycki and Alexandre Paul deserve the same level of help and commitment from their government as John Greyson, Tarek Loubani and all Canadians detained illegally abroad,” said Joanna Kerr of Greenpeace Canada.
“Yet Minister Baird has remained silent on this issue.”
A spokeswoman for Lynne Yelich, the junior foreign affairs minister, said in an e-mail that “consular services are being provided to the two Canadian citizens as required.”
“Minister Yelich met with representatives from the [Greenpeace] organization yesterday and addressed their views directly,” wrote Beatrice Fenelon.
Paul’s mother Nicole gave a tearful recital of the brutal conditions her son is facing in jail in Murmansk.
The two Canadians are paired with Russian-speaking prisoners in frigid, two-man “cages” from which they are sprung for a few minutes each day for exercise, say their families. They are permitted a shower once a week.
Stirling says her brother, an experienced activist, has staged protests all over the world and never faced such arbitrary treatment.
“Having commandos rappel onto the boat in full military gear, with AK-47s, and put them on their knees with guns to their heads is not what happens in 2013 on this planet to peaceful protesters,” said Stirling. “This is more a 1913 response from Russia.”
Asked why Russia’s response was so heavy-handed, she responded: “In two words: Big Oil.”
The seizure of the Arctic Sunrise and arrest of all aboard came a day after Greenpeace staged a protest at a drilling platform owned by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned oil company.
The Arctic Sunrise was in international waters and more than three nautical miles away from the platform when it was boarded by the Russia coast guard.
An international court will hold a hearing Nov. 6 on the Netherlands’ bid to force Russia to release the ship and its crew.