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Photographer covering Greenpeace protest held in Russia

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Freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov sits in a defendant cage in court on Thursday. (AFP/Greenpeace/Igor Podgorny)

New York, September 27, 2013--Russian authorities should immediately release a freelance photographer who was detained nine days ago while covering a Greenpeace demonstration, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A court on Thursday ordered Denis Sinyakov to be held for two months pending an investigation into accusations of piracy, news reports said.

On September 18, Russian authorities arrested 30 people, including Sinyakov, on a ship in the Pechora Sea, where Greenpeace demonstrators were protesting oil mining in the Arctic, according to news reports. Activists from 18 countries, as well as the ship's crew, were detained. Sinyakov was arrested despite showing documents that said he was on assignment to cover the protest for Greenpeace and for the independent news website Lenta.

Authorities said the protesters were on an inflatable boat from which they tried to climb atop the platform of an offshore oil rig, and that they failed to heed warnings by border guards.

On Tuesday, Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee--the agency tasked with investigating serious crimes in the country--told the press that investigators had opened a probe under Article 227.3 of Russia's criminal code, which addresses "piracy carried out by an organized group, which brings death or grave harm to other people." If convicted under this article, an individual faces up to 15 years in prison, the local press said.

"The idea that freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov was engaging in piracy with his camera is laughable. The only thing he intended to take from the scene was pictures," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. "Authorities should release Sinyakov immediately and drop the ridiculous accusations against him."

In a court hearing in Murmansk on Thursday, prosecutors failed to present any evidence of violence or harm caused by the journalist or other defendants, which would have explained the application of Article 227.3 against them, according to a video of the court hearing, which was posted online. No proof of any attempts to seize property was shown in court.

The court ruled that the photographer should be held in detention pending an investigation into whether the actions at the oil rig were an act of piracy, local and international press reported. The presiding judge said Sinyakov's detention was necessary because he traveled abroad regularly and did not live in Murmansk.

Sinyakov denied any wrongdoing. "My only weapon was my camera," he told the Murmansk court. Lenta also presented its contract with Sinyakov, which states that he had attended the protest on assignment to produce a photo essay for the website.

The court also ordered that 21 of the other detained be held in custody for two months pending investigation. The remaining eight face a new hearing on Sunday.

Greenpeace has denied the charges and said there was no intent of piracy or terrorism in the actions of its activists, news reports said.

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