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Russia drops piracy charges against Greenpeace activists
THE Russian authorities have dropped piracy charges against 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists, including Chipping Norton 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 in the case have been refused.
Phil's brother Steve Ball, also from 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.”
Piracy is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years in prison. Hooliganism charges can carry up to seven years in prison.
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.
Tonight Greenpeace Russia spokesman Vladimir Chuprov said: "We will contest the trumped-up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations.
"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."