Charges of piracy levelled at 30 Greenpeace activists who led a protest against Arctic drilling are dropped and replaced with lesser charges of hooliganism.
The news comes after it emerged this morning that prime minister has not contacted his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over the treatment of the six British activists involved in the saga; including one of David Cameron’s own constituents.
Today, Greenpeace welcomed the move but vowed to fight the new charges “as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations”.
And a spokesman said that Russian authorities have threatened to charge some of its activists, whose number includes six Britons, with “use of force against officials”, which carries up to ten years in jail.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the activists “arrived at that oil rig in a ship painted with a dove and a rainbow. Our ship was seized by men with knives and guns, while the Arctic 30 raised their arms. They should be released immediately”.
Reuters reported that Russia’s federal Investigative Committee released a statement confirming the reduction in the severity of the charges faced by the activists, who protested at a Gazprom oil platform off Russia’s northern coast last month.
The Investigative Committee said it had begun the procedure of pressing the new charges, which carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
At the same time, the Investigative Committee said the investigation was continuing and reiterated that it could still bring additional charges against some of the activists, including the use of force against representatives of the state.
The changes to the charge sheet means that the activists have been changed from piracy, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years, to hooliganism with its lesser sentence of up to seven years.
Is the minister saying that the prime minister has not picked up the phone to President Putin, as Chancellor Merkel has? That is outrageous – Ben Bradshaw MP
They now face the same charges as the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, whose members were jailed for two years in 2012 for singing a “punk prayer” in Moscow’s main cathedral.
In London, during an adjournment debate in Westminster Hall this morning, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw described as “outrageous” the revelation that the prime minister has neglected to contact Mr Putin over the plight of the activists; all of whom have been denied bail. The activists have also been kept in solitary confinement in the northern Russian city Murmansk.
After Foreign Office minister David Lidington appeared to indicate that the prime minister was not directly involved in efforts to support the British people detained in Russia, Mr Bradshaw said: “Is the minister saying that the prime minister has not picked up the phone to President Putin, as Chancellor Merkel has? That is outrageous.”
Mr Bradshaw said he wanted to “question the ‘softly, softly’ approach [the government] appears to have adopted”. He added that other nations, including some that do not even have citizens among those arrested, have adopted a much stronger stance towards Russia over the issue.
— Ben Bradshaw (@BenPBradshaw) October 23, 2013
And his Labour colleague Chris Bryant MP agreed, adding: “It would be a good idea if the prime minister were to get in touch directly with Putin.
“Specifically, the prime minister should be saying that using piracy charges undermines the law of piracy across the rest of the world. That is why those charges are like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”
While reports suggest that that hammer has now decreased considerably in size, a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would only say that they were “aware of the reports and continuing to provide consular assistance”.
A spokesman for the prime minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment.