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Russia: Arrest of British Nationals (Greenpeace)

Volume 568: debated on Wednesday 9 October 2013

I wish to inform the House of developments concerning the arrest of 30 people, including six British nationals who were onboard the Arctic Sunrise in the Arctic circle. All have all been charged with “committing acts of piracy”, and the investigation continues.

Since we were made aware of the detention of the ship on 19 September, our priority has been to provide full consular assistance to the six British nationals, and to their families and friends in the UK. This has included ensuring their welfare and that they have access to lawyers. We have also provided consular support to two New Zealand nationals.

Murmansk is around 1,500 km from Moscow. We deployed a consular team prior to the vessel’s arrival in port and arranged for access to the detained. On 24 September consular officials met the British nationals on their arrival in Murmansk.

Subsequently, our consular officials were in attendance for the preliminary court hearings for the British nationals between 26 and 29 September. All 30 detainees were placed on remand for up to two months and transferred to pre-trial detention facilities while the authorities carried out further investigation. Before and after the hearings, consular officials were permitted to talk with the British nationals and take messages from them to pass to concerned relatives in the UK.

On 2 October the Russian Investigative Authority charged all 30 detainees with acts of piracy. Consular officials carried out further consular visits on 3 and 4 October to all six British nationals, and one of the New Zealand nationals. We were able to check on their welfare and address any concerns. We are working closely with the Russian authorities and we remain grateful for their continued co-operation. Going forward, we will remain in regular contact with the British detainees and continue to provide all appropriate consular assistance. We are working closely with Greenpeace to address any concerns they may have about due process and welfare.

On 3 October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs met John Sauven, Greenpeace executive director and Ruth Davis, Greenpeace political director, to discuss their concerns. He made it clear that he was following the case closely and that he had spoken with Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov in New York on 25 September. The Foreign Secretary said we would remain in close contact with all other nations whose citizens were involved, and make representations to the Russian authorities if necessary.

Senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials have also raised the case with Russia’s ambassador to the UK on 26 September and our ambassador in Moscow raised the case with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov on 2 October.