MOSCOW — Russia’s main investigative agency said Wednesday that it has dropped piracy charges against jailed Greenpeace activists, including two Canadians, and charged them instead with hooliganism.
The news brought little comfort to anxious family members back home, since the new charges still carry stiff prison sentences of up to seven years.
But Patti Ruzycki Stirling, whose brother Paul Ruzycki was serving as first mate aboard the Greenpeace ship “Arctic Sunrise” when it was seized last month, said the decision still represents progress from the Russian government.
Ruzycki, fellow Canadian Alexandre Paul and 28 other activists were originally facing prison terms of up to 15 years under the original piracy charges.
“It’s the first step in the right direction, the fact that they’ve come to their senses and realized that piracy is lunacy, that they had no grounds for that,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Port Colborne, Ont.
Greenpeace took a harder line, saying their crew members were arrested while travelling in international waters and should not be behind bars at all.
Christy Ferguson, Arctic Campaign Co-ordinator with Greenpeace Canada, called the new charges “wildly disproportionate.”
“Hooliganism carries up to seven years in prison for what was still a peaceful protest being made in the public interest,” she said. “These were people who were protesting dangerous Arctic drilling and trying to shine a light on what’s happening in the Arctic.”
She added the situation could get worse if Russia’s Investigative Committee follows through on a warning that it could file additional charges against the activists, including violence against authorities — a charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said the activists “are no more hooligans than they were pirates” and should be freed immediately.