Dutch ask sea tribunal to free Greenpeace activists


* Hamburg-based maritime court rules on law of the sea

* Russia declines to participate in court proceedings

* Tribunal ruling expected on Nov. 22

By Michael Hogan

HAMBURG, Nov 6 (Reuters) - The Netherlands asked aninternational court on Wednesday to order Russia to release 30people detained during a Greenpeace protest against oil drillingin the Arctic at a tribunal Moscow refused to attend.

Dutch government representative Liesbeth Lijnzaad saidRussia had "violated the human rights" of the activists whotried to climb onto Russia's first offshore Arctic oil rig inSeptember, detaining them for seven weeks "without grounds".

Russia has said it does not recognise the case, accusing theactivists and their ship, the Dutch-registered Arctic Sunrise,of posing a security threat. Prosecutors charged the 30 withpiracy but then reduced the charge to hooliganism, which carriesa maximum jail term of seven years.

President Vladimir Putin has said they are not pirates buthas faced growing criticism in the West over what is seen asRussia's heavy-handed treatment of the case.

Countries have no right to seize vessels belonging to thirdcountries in their exclusive maritime economic zones, Lijnzaadtold the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in theGerman port of Hamburg.

Tribunal president judge Shunji Yanai set Nov. 22 as theprovisional date for a court decision.

Another Dutch government representative, Rene Lefeber, toldthe court exclusive economic zones such as that where theGreenpeace ship was arrested gave nations rights to protecttheir natural resources but not the same powers to board andarrest vessels as they can in territorial waters.

As Russia's arrest of the vessel was illegal, other actionswhich followed this including the detention of the crew werealso illegal, Lefeber said.


The Hamburg court was established by the 1982 U.N.Convention on the Law of the Sea - of which both the Netherlandsand Russia are signatories - to settle maritime disputes. Itsdecisions are binding but it has no means of enforcing them.

Greenpeace, a global environmentalist group based inAmsterdam, praised the Dutch bid to free the ship and crew.

"The Netherlands is taking a strong stance in support of therule of law and the right to peacefully protest," Greenpeaceinternational general counsel Jasper Teulings said afterWednesday's hearing.

Teulings said Greenpeace feared the 30 detainees still facedthe piracy charges - which carry a maximum jail term of 15 years- despite a decision by the Russian committee handling the caseto reduce them to hooliganism in late October.

"Nothing has changed despite the statement by Putin and fromthe investigative committee that the charges would berequalified to hooliganism," Teulings said.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last week reiterated Moscow'sstance that Greenpeace posed a threat to the security of Russianworkers and the environment by disturbing work at the platform.

The case has added to strains in relations between Russiaand the Netherlands. On Tuesday, the Dutch foreign minister denounced a Russian law banning homosexual "propaganda" amongminors and said violation of gay rights could be grounds forasylum in his country.

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