Russia drops piracy charges against Greenpeace activists
Russia has dropped piracy charges against jailed Greenpeace activists, including three from Devon, who have instead been charged with hooliganism.
Piracy is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years in prison. Hooliganism charges can carry up to seven years in prison.
The Investigative Committee’s statement follows a comment by President Vladimir Putin, who said last month that he doesn’t think that the Greenpeace activists were pirates.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia rejected the new charges, saying the activists “are no more hooligans than they were pirates” and should be freed immediately.
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“This is still a wildly disproportionate charge that carries up to seven years in jail,” he said in a statement. “We will contest the trumped up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations. They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to reality.”
The news came as pressure increased on the Russian authorities to drop the charges altogether.
A Westcountry MP and barrister yesterday (wed) warned it is “not proportionate” for Russian authorities to charge 30 activists and journalists with piracy for their protest.
The so-called “Arctic 30” include journalist Kieron Bryan, 29, and Alexandra Harris, 27, who both grew up in Devon, as well as engineer Iain Rogers, 37, from Exeter.
They are being held in Murmansk after armed Russian officials boarded Greenpeace vessel the Arctic Sunrise last month as activists tried to protest against state-controlled energy company Gazprom’s oil drilling in the Arctic’s Pechora Sea.
In a House of Commons debate, Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for West Devon and Torridge, called for the British Government to appeal to Russian authorities on compassionate grounds for their safe release.
He detailed how the families of Mr Bryan and Miss Harris – whose family live in his constituency – are suffering the “inevitable shocking anxiety and anguish” of loved ones being “isolated and segregated in a faraway place and accused of something that they are convinced, as I am, they did not do”.
Mr Cox, one of Britain’s leading QCs, said: “Proportionality must be applied in all circumstances to all the actions of a sovereign state and its court system. The actions currently being taken against Alex Harris, Kieron Bryan and others who are under the custody of the Russian authorities is not proportionate.”
Speaking in Westminster Hall, Mr Cox said the families of Mr Bryan and Miss Harris are “Devonshire people”.
“Alexandra Harris was brought up in a farming family of generations. She went to Dolton and then Great Torrington school,” he said.
“Kieron Bryan was brought up in Shebbear, a great village in Torridge that I know well, so I feel particularly close to those two young people at this particular time.”
He added: “I urge the Russian authorities to understand that those two people, as well as all their colleagues at the time, were not there in any destructive, illegal or lawbreaking spirit.”
Meanwhile, Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said it was “outrageous” David Cameron has yet to telephone Russian President Vladimir Putin over their release.
In response to the latest news, Mr Bradshaw, a former Foreign Office minister, yesterday took to Twitter to reject hooliganism charges, writing: “Hooliganism" (2 years) better than piracy (15) but still a nonsense. Time for the #Arctic30 to be allowed home.”