Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

'Common sense' hope in Russia case

Kieron Bryan appears at a bail hearing at the regional court of Murmansk, Russia (Greenpeace/PA)

The mother of a British journalist detained in Russia while covering a Greenpeace protest hopes "common sense, and a sense of fair play and justice" will prevail.

Videographer Kieron Bryan, 29, from Devon, was among 30 people including six Britons who were held when armed Russian officials boarded their vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, in September.

The boat and Greenpeace protesters were taken from the Arctic's Pechora Sea, near oil company Gazprom's platform, to the port of Murmansk.

The six Britons, including Mr Bryan, who was documenting the protest, were being investigated for piracy, but were later charged with hooliganism.

At a silent protest outside the Russian Embassy in London, Mr Bryan's mother Ann said the country has made its point and said her son should be released.

"Punishment should fit the crime and for what happened that day I think they've more than served their punishment," she said.

Adding: "I just hope that common sense, and a sense of fair play and justice, will come out of this."

Mrs Bryan, her husband Andy and son Russell were joined by journalists and freedom of speech campaigners at the embassy near Notting Hill as they handed in a petition signed by 1,400 people in support of Mr Bryan's release.

About 40 supporters wore stickers across their mouths, while a significant number of camera crews, reporters and photographers looked on.

The signatures are from hundreds of UK journalists, including editors on national newspapers.

Mrs Bryan last spoke to her son on the phone two weeks ago, and they have since exchanged emails and letters which have had to go through translation and approval stages, she said.

"At that point he seemed calm and strong. He was trying to be positive.

"Today we're not so sure because we've heard that they are now being moved to St Petersburg, so that's another upheaval for them.

"They're probably wondering why and what does it mean, which is exactly what we are as well," she said.

Russell Bryan said the fact they were able to hand in the petition was a step forward, but described the situation his family faces as "incredibly difficult".

"We're taking every day as it comes at the moment. It's incredibly difficult.

"One minute things look positive, the next you think he might be facing a huge amount of time in jail," he said.

Mr Bryan said his younger brother, who faces a prison term of around seven years if convicted of hooliganism, is being kept in his cell for 23 hours a day.

"I think he's in a bit of a state of shock.

"He's very angry at what's happening.

"He doesn't feel like he should be there and we feel that way as well," he said.

He added: "He's quite buoyed by the news of what's going on back home but spending 23 hours in a prison cell is not an easy thing to do.

"There are probably some darker moments.

"I think he's very fearful of what could happen and how long he could go to prison for."

Mr Bryan said his brother was simply "doing his job".

He said: "He doesn't feel like he should be in jail, and I'd imagine that feeling will only get stronger over time."

Mr Bryan said the past few weeks have been like a "rollercoaster" for the family.

The videographer had been living and working in London before his arrest.

His family have maintained since he was detained that he was only doing his job reporting on the protest and was not actually involved in the demonstration.

But Greenpeace said even those actively involved in the protest did not deserve the harsh treatment they had received from Russian authorities.

International executive director Kumi Naidoo said the 30 men and women were facing jail time simply because two peaceful protesters had tried to hang a small yellow banner from the side of a 500,000-tonne oil platform.

"First this saga shocked people across the world, now it has descended into farce,'' he said.

"Those campaigners were willing to risk their liberty to shine a light on dangerous Arctic oil drilling, but the authorities' reaction has been wildly disproportionate.

"The legal hammer now being wielded against them says so much more about those who have brought these charges than it does about the prisoners.

"They are neither pirates nor hooligans, they are simply people possessed of a conscience who care about our common future and they should be released immediately.''

Mr Naidoo said Greenpeace had been told by diplomatic sources the Arctic 30 had been moved from a detention centre in Murmansk to a jail in St Petersburg.

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said the British Government was aware of the claim and was investigating further, but was yet to confirm it.

Mr Naidoo said the move would mean families and consular officers would find it easier to visit the detainees and St Petersburg at least received some daylight in winter months.

"But there is no guarantee that conditions inside the new detention centre will be any better than in Murmansk,'' he said.

"In fact, they could be worse.

"There is no justification whatsoever to keep the Arctic 30 in any prison for a day longer.

"They are prisoners of conscience who acted out of a determination to protect us all, and they should be free.''

Hundreds of events have been held around the world since the arrests, and more than 1.85 million people have sent letters and emails calling for those detained to be released.

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