Russian authorities on Wednesday softened charges against Greenpeace activists who tried to board an oil and gas platform in Arctic waters, accusing them of the lesser crime of hooliganism as opposed to piracy.
A decision was made to reclassify the charges against the 30 people detained on Sept. 19 on board the environmental watchdog's Arctic Sunrise vessel, 28 activists and two freelance journalists covering the protest, Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee, told news agencies.
The 30 detainees, whose home countries have repeatedly called for their release, have been jailed for a month in the northwestern Russian port city of Murmansk.
Piracy is punishable in Russia by up to 15 years in prison, while hooliganism carries a maximum sentence of seven years.
President Vladimir Putin weighed in on the case shortly after Russian border guards arrested the 30 suspects in the Barents Sea a day after the ship-scaling protest.
He said they clearly were not pirates but had broken the law by trying to board the Prirazlomnaya oil platform, operated by Russian state energy giant Gazprom.
But the Investigative Committee went ahead and filed piracy charges against all 30 detainees.
Those detained in the case are from nearly a score of countries: Russia, the United States, Britain, Canada, Italy, Ukraine, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey, Finland, Sweden, and France.
On Wednesday, Russia said it rejected arbitration in the case by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. The Netherlands has brought the case to that German-based court in a bid to secure the release of the crew members of the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise.
The protest will not halt Gazprom's plans to begin producing oil with the Prirazlomnaya rig before year's end, according to the company, which said it expected to become the first company to sell crude extracted from the Arctic. EFE