Photographer, Not a Pirate! We Demand the Release of Denis Sinyakov

September 27, 2013
Screenshot of Novaya Gazeta front page by Yevgeny Feldman posted on his Twitter feed @evgenyfeldman

Many of Russia’s newspapers have shut their pictures off today, replacing them with black or grey squares, or red Xs, in order to protest against the imprisonment of a distinguished photojournalist, Denis Sinyakov. Sinyakov was photographing a protest by Greenpeace activists when he and the activists were arrested. Despite the fact that Sinyakov was only documenting the event, and extenuating circumstances of his personal life, he has been denied bail and it appears that he will be tried under the fullest extent of the law.

Other papers that joined this photo blackout reported by TV Rain:,, Ekho Moskvy, Bol’shoi Gorod, Argumenty i Fakty, Russian Reporter, The New Times, Svobodnaya Press, Osobaya Bukva,, Russkaya Planeta and –

Samples of his work can be found in a gallery on The New Times. – Ed.

On 26 September in Murmansk, the Lenin District Court arrested nine Greenpeace activists. All of them are accused of piracy – and along with them, photographer Denis Sinyakov is accused under this particularly harsh article of the criminal code. Both he and the environmentalists are threatened with up to 15 years of imprisonment.

I was not in the courtroom in Murmansk, but even from the photo and news stories it is clear how it was. Denis was in handcuffs in a cage – that’s the practice, and it doesn’t matter that he has not been declared guilty by a court of anything. The attorneys read papers sent by his wife Alina – references from his workplace, his child’s birth certificate. The judge nevertheless issued a decree agreeing with the investigator: Sinyakov “may go into hiding” and it doesn’t matter if he has a small child; Sinyakov “may destroy evidence,” and it doesn’t matter if his equipment was seized and the ship is docked in Murmansk.

The investigation is certain: the environmentalists “in a criminal group” stormed the platform of the Prirazlomnaya [Russian state petroleum company Gazprom’s platform in the Arctic offshore oilfield in the Pechora Sea] in order to “seize control of it.” In fact, Greenpeace planned a peaceful protest action – they wanted to scale the steep wall with a [rigged] tent with two activists and drop a banner: “Don’t Kill the Arctic.”

A year ago, a similar action ended in scandal – the activists were washed into the sea with icy sprays of water cannon. Greenpeace has waged its campaign against drilling in the Arctic in Moscow as well: an activist dressed up as a polar bear stands with a sign at Gazprom’s main office, plays with his “babies” in artificial snow and even sails along the Moscow River on an “iceberg.”

But Denis Sinyakov is one of the best Russian press photographers. A year ago he left Reuters and began working as a freelancer – he has worked with and other media. He has always been interested in eco-activism and therefore he had often photographed the Greenpeace activists. Sinyakov went on the expedition to the Prirazlomnaya under a contract with Greenpeace – he filmed for them, and also for (where there is an impressive gallery of photographs of the attack by the armed border guards on the activists’ boat).

Denis is a person with an impeccable reputation in the Russian photography community; he has covered many wars and has never once been suspected of bias. During a picket in defense of Denis, his colleagues joked bitterly – the Taliban considered Sinyakov objective, but the Russian government had refused him this consideration.

Signatures in defense of photo correspondent Denis Sinyakov are being collected at the Ekho Moskvy site. A list of the first signatories – journalists, photographers, editors-in-chief – is published at

Novaya Gazeta demands the release from custody of the photojournalist Denis Sinyakov and joins the action of Russian media who have removed all photographs from their sites today as a sign of protest.