Journalists in Saint Petersburg are demanding the release of a photographer detained on piracy charges along with the crew of a Greenpeace ship after an Arctic oil drilling protest.

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During a demonstration on Sunday in Russia’s second city, blindfolded photographers and other journalists held placards reading: “Who is next?” and “Photographer is not a pirate.”

“We would like to show that we support our colleague,” Alexander Koryakov, a photo editor with Kommersant broadsheet and one of the protest rally’s organisers, told AFP.

“Unlike in the West where society comes up in support of journalists, in our country there is no one to defend journalists.”

He put the turnout at some 60 people.

A former staff photographer for AFP and Reuters, Denis Sinyakov was covering the Greenpeace protest for a Russian online site.

Sinyakov, along with the 29 crew members of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise icebreaker including two each from Australia and New Zealand, has been detained on piracy charges after several activists tried to scale a state oil rig last month.

The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. The group have been placed in pre-trial detention until late November.

Investigators later added that “narcotic substances” had been found on the ship and they would be laying additional charges. Greenpeace denies this claim.

A court last week turned down the bail pleas of Sinyakov and the others.

The Kremlin’s right council, an advisory body, criticised the charges brought against Sinyakov as “pressure on the media”.

President Vladimir Putin has said the activists are “not pirates” but his spokesman later said the president had expressed his personal opinion.

A Greenpeace lawyer said their colleagues had to endure “inhuman conditions” while on remand in jails in Murmansk and Apatity nearly 2000 kilometres miles north of Moscow.