Twenty eight activists and two journalists begin 800-mile journey from Murmansk to pre-trial detention centres
The families of the British nationals held by Russian authorities for two months after a Greenpeace protest have spoken of their fears for their loved ones’ safety, expressing concern that some of the 28 activists and two journalists will be “lost” during transportation within the country’s detention system.
The 30-strong group is being transported by train from the northern city of Murmansk to pretrial detention centres more than 800 miles away in Saint Petersburg.
Sue Rogers, whose son Iain is a crew member of Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise, said the group had been separated briefly earlier during their capture.
“I don’t want the Arctic 30 to be split up and [the Russian authorities] saying ‘Sorry we don’t know where we sent that one.’ I don’t want any one of them ‘lost’ or to disappear. That would be absolutely heartbreaking.”
The brother of another captive said David Cameron was hoping for a “positive response” from the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, over his calls for proper legal process.
Steve Ball, brother of Philip, whose family live in Cameron’s Witney constituency in Oxfordshire, said after a private meeting with the prime minister at Number 10: “I felt it was quite positive. I felt that he had taken an interest and was following the process quite closely.”
All the families met David Lidington, Foreign Office minister of state, whose brief includes Russia, on Monday. As they spoke of their experiences, the 30 held in Russia, drawn from 18 different nationalities, were being transported from the northern city of Murmansk to St Petersburg, an 800 mile-plus journey.
Although Cameron had not given any details of a conversation he had with Putin last week – said by Downing Street to include a call for “prompt, fair and proportionate action” by the Russian judicial system – he had spoken of his rapport with the Russian leader, claimed Ball.
“He knows the man enough to think it was a positive response. I have been very pleased by the way he had handled this throughout.”
He added that in a letter, Philip Ball had described the food as “crap” and the living conditions uncomfortable, but had been buoyed by support from around the world.
Cameron last week told Putin he considers the charges of hooliganism to be excessive, while William Hague, the foreign secretary, has also raised the matter with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
Sue Rogers was worried the Foreign Office was not taking the captives’ welfare as seriously as it should. Her family had tried to send vitamin D tablets because of the lack of sunlight in Murmansk. “My son said the diet was extremely poor,” said Rogers.
Jenna Saunders, Philip Ball’s partner, said Cameron was facing a delicate balancing act. The Russians could react “adversely” to pressure, she said. “I think David Cameron is aware of that.”
Clifford Harris, whose daughter Alexandra is also in the captive group, said: “Behind the scenes things are happening. Maybe not as fast as some people would like but it is a ball that is rolling.”
The 30 were captured in September after armed Russian border guards stormed their ship during a protest in which campaigners tried to scale an Arctic drilling platform.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]