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Freelance photographer and video reporter on intercepted Greenpeace vessel imprisoned in Russia

Reporters Without Borders is appalled that a court in the northwestern city of Murmansk today (26 September 2013) ordered that Denis Sinyakov (Денис Синяков), a well-known Russian freelance photographer who was aboard a Greenpeace vessel intercepted in Russian Arctic waters on 19 September, be placed in preventive detention for two months.

“Sinyakov was arrested while working as a journalist and his detention constitutes an unacceptable violation of freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By investigating this photographer and the Greenpeace activists he was accompanying on such an absurd accusation as piracy, the Russian Investigative Committee is criminalizing both journalists and environmental activism.

“If Russia's constitutional guarantees have any meaning, neither Greenpeace's peaceful protest nor, even more so, Sinyakov's journalistic coverage of the protest constitute a crime. We urge the authorities to release this photographer at once and to drop this investigation.”

The Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise set off in late August for Russian Arctic waters to draw attention to the potential environmental consequences of oil exploration in the region. On 18 September, members of its crew tried to scale the Prirazlomnaya offshore drilling platform, which is owned by the Russian gas company Gazprom.

The next day, Russian special forces seized control of the Arctic Sunrise and began towing it to Murmansk. On 24 September, all 30 people aboard were placed in police custody in the Murmansk area and the authorities announced that they were being investigated for “piracy,” which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Sinyakov was one of the first to appear in court today. Noting that he “often travels abroad” and might try to elude the authorities, the court ruled that he should be held for two months pending the outcome of the investigation.

Sinyakov told the court: “This 'criminal activity' is journalism and I will continue to practice it […] Greenpeace is an organization with a 40-year history and is well known for its activities. But I don't work for it. I am a journalist. You can see my photos in the media in Russia and all over the world. All my equipment has been seized. My only weapon is my camera.”

Employed on a freelance basis by such news agencies as Reuters and AFP, Sinyakov also does occasional reporting assignments for Greenpeace and it was in this capacity that he was aboard the Arctic Sunrise. He took most of the photos of the Arctic Sunrise being boarded by Russian special forces that have appeared in the press.

On 27 September Reporters Without Borders learned that another person was on the seized Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise in a journalistic capacity and that, like Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov, he was among those placed in two months detention by a court in the northwestern city of Murmansk.

It was British video reporter Kieron Bryan. As with Sinyakov, Reporters Without Borders urges the Russian authorities to free him at once and drop the investigation against him for alleged piracy.

Bryan has worked in the past for two British newspapers, The Times and The Mirror, and for California-based Current TV, but has been working as a freelance reporter and filmmaker since January.

Like Sinyakov, he was on the Arctic Sunrise not as a Greenpeace activist but in order to document its activities and provide reports to the international media.

Many Russian media masked photos on their front pages and websites today in protest against Sinyakov's detention. Reporters Without Borders urges everyone to sign the petition for his release that is hosted on the site of independent radio Echo of Moscow (in Russian).

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