Between 9AM and 11.30AM today, some Greenpeace activists hung off the north face of Sagrada Família – Barcelona's iconic, Gaudi-designed cathedral – to protest against the Russian government’s treatment of the "Arctic 30". If that sounds like some kind of isotonic vitamin supplement to you, Arctic 30 refers to the 28 activists and two journalists currently banged up in a Russian jail awaiting trial on hooliganism charges. When most people think of hooligans they probably think of large, angry men smashing each other over the head on a football train rather a bunch of environmentalists attempting to climb an oil rig in the Arctic Ocean, but there you go, the Russian government's in a funny place right now.
This morning I spoke to Luis Ferreirim, Greenpeace’s spokesperson to find out a bit more about the campaign, and what the likelihood of release is.
VICE: Hey Luis, why the Sagrada Família?
Luis: Well we decided on the Sagrada Família as it’s a really iconic building, and a good opportunity to send out a message about the activists who are being held in Russia. Ten climbers got to display banners with photos of the detained activists and the word "Freedom" in various languages.
Did it all go according to plan?
It was surprisingly easy getting out there, as we walked in like normal visitors, and then climbed from there. Unfortunately not all the activists could unfurl their banners. We had planned for 30 protesters – one for each of the detainees. We also took care not to damage the building, as we’re aware of its historic status.
Were there any arrests?
Not yet. The ten protesters who got outside were being questioned for a long time, but we don’t think they’ll bring charges.
What’s the response been like to the campaign so far?
It’s been great. Two million letters of protest have been sent to Russian embassies around the world, and we’ve got the support of 12 Nobel Prize winners and some heads of state, such as Angela Merkel.
How about the Spanish government?
No, they haven’t said anything official yet. We’ve been trying to get them to comment through diplomatic channels since this all started, but the only thing they’ve said is that they’ll consider the request.
No surprises there, then. Are you in contact with the detained activists in Russia? Do they know about this action?
Yes and it’s one of the things that’s keeping them positive. They’ve been in prison for 52 days now and conditions are obviously not great. Some of them have health problems, but this kind of thing definitely helps them to be optimistic.
Is there any real likelihood that all this international pressure will make a difference?
We know it’s difficult. At the end of the day, it’s a different country, but we’re optimistic. We expect the charges to be brought on the 24th of November. That’s the date the Russian authorities have announced. And really, the only criminal offence they’ve committed is to stage a peaceful protest, and to care for the world’s future.
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