HAMBURG (Reuters) - The Netherlands will ask an international court on Wednesday to order Russia to release 30 people detained during a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic.

The detainees, two of whom are Dutch, have been charged with hooliganism for the September 18 protest in which Greenpeace environmentalist activists tried to scale Russia's first offshore Arctic oil rig.

The Dutch hope the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg will make a ruling by mid-November that would secure the provisional release of the captives who have all been denied bail in a case that has strained relations with the West, particularly the Netherlands.

Russia has told the court it does not accept the Netherlands' case and will not participate in the proceedings that will start, in any case, on Wednesday.

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

"We are very grateful to the Dutch government for bringing this case and to the tribunal for considering it" said Greenpeace International General Counsel Jasper Teulings. The global environmentalist group is based in Amsterdam.

"The argument of the Netherlands is that in international waters, ships have the right to freedom of navigation and so this means they may not be boarded, inspected, detained or arrested except with the permission of the flag state. There are exceptions to this, but they are limited," Teulings added.

The Netherlands also wants Russia to release the activists' Dutch-flagged vessel, the Arctic Sunrise.

Russia's Investigative Committee, which is handling the case, reduced initial charges of piracy to hooliganism late last month, cutting the maximum jail term from 15 years to seven, after President Vladimir Putin said they were not pirates.

The case adds to strains between the two countries. Last month senior diplomats from each country were beaten in their respective homes in Moscow and The Hague.

On Tuesday, the Dutch foreign minister denounced Russia's law banning homosexual "propaganda" among minors and said the violation of gay rights could be grounds for asylum in the Netherlands.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last week reiterated Moscow's stance that the Greenpeace protest had posed a threat to the security of Russian workers and to the environment by disturbing work at the platform.

(Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

 

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