5:00pm Saturday 2nd November 2013
THE Russian authorities have dropped piracy charges against 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists, including Cotswold father-of- three Phil Ball.
The piracy charges have now been replaced with ‘hooliganism’ charges, according to officials.
The new charge has a maximum penalty of seven years rather than 15, Russian news website Lenta said.
The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise was seized nearly four weeks ago by Russian security forces after some activists tried to scale an offshore oil drilling platform owned by Russian state energy company Gazprom in the Barents Sea.
So far, all bail applications have been refused.
Phil's brother Steve Ball, who also lives in Chipping Norton, said: “It’s got to be better than what we were looking at in the first place.
We have our fingers crossed but a lot to wait for yet.”
The group of 28 Greenpeace activists, a Russian photographer and a British videographer, have been held in prison in the northern Russian city of Murmansk since they were detained on September 18. Greenpeace Russia spokesman Vladimir Chuprov said: “We will contest the trumped-up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations.”
Last week Steve Ball told how his brother Phil was wearing lots of warm clothing when he got dropped off at a bus stop to go on a three-week trip but he would not reveal which cold climate he was heading for.
Days later, Mr Ball got the shock of his life when he discovered Phil was one of the Greenpeace protesters being held in Russia on piracy charges. Mr Ball has now told how his younger brother is trying to stay strong, despite facing years in a Russian jail.
Mr Ball, aged 44, said: “I took Phil to Oxford bus station about 10 days before his arrest. He had packed for cold weather and was boarding a bus to London, but I didn’t know where he was going. Then I was getting ready for work and listening to the radio when they said Greenpeace protesters had been held in the Arctic and straight away I thought ‘Oh my God that’s my brother’.”
A father to sons aged eight and seven and a three-yearold daughter, the Greenpeace activist grew up in Chipping Norton.
His brother, a school science technician who also lives in the town, said: “He talks about the terrible food and very basic conditions and says he is allowed out once a day for an hour to exercise alone in a yard.”
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