Jonathon Beauchamp looks out from a defendants' box at the
Leninsky District Court Of Murmansk last month.
Piracy charges have been dropped against 30 Greenpeace
activists, including two New Zealanders, being held in Russia.
Officials have replaced the charges with ones of hooliganism,
which carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison,
instead of the 15 for piracy.
A statement by Russia's main investigative agency announced
the change in charges this morning.
The environmentalists, including Kiwis Jonathan Beauchamp and
David Haussmann, were arrested in September after Russian
authorities boarded their vessel The Arctic Sunrise in
The 28 Greenpeace activists, a freelance photographer and a
freelance videographer, were protesting against drilling for
oil in Arctic waters, and had focussed their attentions to a
drilling platform owned by gas giant Gazprom. Two people had
tried to climb onto the platform and hang a banner.
The plight of Mr Beauchamp and Mr Haussman was raised by
Prime Minister John Key when he met Russian President
Vladimir Putin at APEC earlier this month.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the new charges
were still "wildly disproportionate", and the Arctic 30 are
"no more hooligans than they were pirates".
"It represents nothing less than an assault on the very
principle of peaceful protest," he said in a statement.
"Those brave men and women went to the Arctic armed with
nothing more than a desire to shine a light on a reckless
business. They should be with their families, not in a prison
He said Greenpeace will contest the "trumped up charge" of
hooliganism as strongly as it protested the piracy charges.
"They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to
reality. The Arctic 30 protested peacefully against Gazprom's
dangerous oil drilling and should be free," he said.
Mr Chuprov said Russia's main investigative agency, The
Investigative Committee, has also suggested it may charge
some of the environmentalists with use of force against
officials, which carries a maximum 10 year prison sentence.
He called for the immediate release of the 30 prisoners.
- Patrice Dougan of APNZ