On Wednesday 23rd October the charges against the 'Arctic 30' were reduced from piracy to hooliganism. The official statement from the Russian Investigative Committee can be found here:
"And today the investigators have decided to reclassify the charges for part 2 of article 213 of the RF Penal Code (hooliganism, which is gross violation of public order, expressing obvious disrespect to society, committed using the objects, used as weapons, by an organized group and accompanied by resistance to a representative of the authorities)."
The BBC covered the story:
Greenpeace responded in a typically belligerent fashion:
"In response, Ben Ayliffe at Greenpeace International said:
"The Arctic 30 are innocent of all charges. There can be no justification for locking them up in a cell in Murmansk. This was an entirely peaceful protest in international waters to shine a light on Gazprom's reckless Arctic oil drilling plans. Eleven warning shots were fired across the Arctic Sunrise, bullets were fired into the water next to the protesters, they were threatened with guns and knives and detained on trumped up charges to defend Gazprom’s oil interests. Who are the real hooligans here?”"
Coverage from Russia's state news service, RIA:
"Markin of Russia’s Investigative Committee also said some members of the group could face charges of using force against state officials.
He said the Greenpeace group’s lack of cooperation with investigators had unnecessarily drawn out the process.
“The failure of the accused to give evidence gave cause for investigators to carefully consider all alternative versions of what took place,” Markin said."
Amnesty International commented on the development:
"The provision is vague and open to abuse, and Amnesty International believes it should not be applied in this case.
“This Russian roulette of criminal charges must stop. The Arctic 30 activists must be released immediately and the Russian authorities must halt their ill-founded attempts to criminally prosecute them,” said Dalhuisen."
This statement also points out that the two of the members of protest punk band 'Pussy Riot' were convicted of hooliganism and are serving two-year prison sentences. Amnesty International considers them 'prisoners of conscience'. However, according to the Russian Criminal Code, hooliganism has a much greater range of possible sentences than piracy.
Early on Wednesday, MPs had debated the situation in Westminster Hall. Many MPs were in attendance, and made some strong statements encouraging the Prime Minister to involve himself more in the issue. Video can be found here:
A transcript can be found here:
The MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, replied to Foreign Office Minister David Lidington's confirmation that David Cameron had not personally spoken to President Putin:
"Is the Minister saying that the Prime Minister has not picked up the phone to President Putin, as Chancellor Merkel has? That is outrageous."
Geoffrey Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon, said this:
"Kieron Bryan is 29. He was a videographer on the Arctic Sunrise. He was nominated for an award. He is a talented, young and idealistic man. He was not there to break the law; he was on board the ship merely to record what happened and to keep a record."
Harriet Harman, Kieron's MP, gave us additional insight into the conditions that Kieron is currently experiencing.
"Regarding his access to the outside world, I understand that his letters are brought in and he is allowed to read them, but then they are taken away. So he cannot even keep his letters and see what his friends and family are writing to him. He has only been allowed one book and he has now finished that. He was allowed one phone call to his family when he was on the way to detention. Since then, he has only had access to the phone last weekend, which is not acceptable."
The Russian Ambassador met with MPs in the afternoon. He was doorstepped by ITV News, but refused to comment on the ongoing legal process. In this report Russell also gives his reaction to the new charges.
Also on Wednesday, Russia announced that it would boycott the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea hearing.
"“The Russian side has informed the Netherlands and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea that it does not accept the arbitration procedure in the Arctic Sunrise case, and is not planning to take part in the tribunals,” the ministry said in a statement Wednesday, adding that Moscow is still “open to the settlement” of the case. The statement did not elaborate."
"When Russia ratified the convention in 1997, it submitted an accompanying statement saying it would not accept procedures that led to the tribunal making binding decisions concerning national sovereignty, the ministry said."
This post on law blog Opinon Juris mentions that China has recently responded similarly to a UNCLOS dispute.
"If Russia does simply walk away, this is another body blow to the dispute settlement under the UNCLOS system, especially considering that Russia has accepted the jurisdiction of the ITLOS in past disputes."
It is worth noting that the United States has not ratified, or even signed, this convention.
Regardless of Russia's position, a positive outcome in this hearing will add to the growing international pressure.
Today (Sunday 27th October), a letter from Kieron was published in the Sunday Times.
The BBC report: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24690005
Again, it's tough to read. It's clear that the possibility of a prison sentence weighs heavy on his mind. The poor quality (and dubious composition) of the food is discussed in some detail. It is not clear if this letter was written before the reduction of the charges, but given the lead time on communication so far, it would seem likely.
In The Indenpendent, a letter from one of Kieron's fellow British detainees, Frank Hewetson, was published on Saturday:
"Lunch/abyet, 13:00 Potato is in there somewhere. The trick is to sieve out the suspected meat particles and positive ID them before consumption. It is often quite wise not to consume them.
Dinner/oozhin, 19:00 Potato makes a comeback on most evenings, indeed lunch makes a comeback on some evenings, but that’s quite often well before 19:00. If one gets extra boiled water and uses bread, dinner can actually be quite palatable."
On Saturday 2nd November, there will be a silent protest by journalists outside the Russian Embassy. Trade publication Press Gazette:
"Kieron’s brother, Russell has thanked the 1,200 journalists for signing the petition and asked them to step up the protest.
“We are writing to invite you to join a show of solidarity for Kieron - a silent protest by his fellow journalists, between 12 noon and 2pm, on Saturday 2nd November, outside the Russian Embassy, W8 4PQ."
Please encourage any journalists you know to attend this.
This prickly interview on Russia Today with Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo shows how the feeling in Russia is quite different in certain circles:
The debate on Twitter between the interviewer, Oksana Boyto, and BBC correspondent Daniel Sandford, is quite interesting:
"Why," @OksanaBoyko_RT asked "do you have so little regard for the legal system in this country?" Not a good question to ask"
Jess has created these images which you may wish to use on social networks as a profile picture, or anywhere you like.
Kieron is no more a hooligan than a pirate. He has been imprisoned without trial for over a month now. Whilst the latest development is a positive step, it's still a long way from Kieron being out of prison. Free Kieron.