Russian authorities say activists involved in a Greenpeace protest over Arctic oil drilling could face new charges.
Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said on October 24 that investigators are not excluding the possibility of charging some of the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists with violence against officials.
"It is obvious that there was nothing even remotely close to peaceful activities in this story. The behavior of the suspects after their detention does not help to establish the truth in this case either," Markin said.
"The investigators are not excluding the possibility of charging a number of the involved people of further grave violations, namely we are talking about article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation that deals with acts of violence against official authorities."
Markin's statement comes a day after he announced that existing charges against the activists had been changed from piracy, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years, to hooliganism, which carries a maximum punishment of seven years.
The lawyer for the Greenpeace activists said on October 24 that both the hooliganism and piracy charges were “absurd.”
Aleksandr Lyashenko also said that he and the rest of the legal team defending the activists have not been kept properly informed of the changing charges against them.
"Nobody has either invited us to or informed us about any procedural considerations regarding the change of the charges or possibly the means of detention. Nothing of the sort has taken place up to this moment," Lyashenko said.
Also on October 23, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told journalists in Washington that the U.S. will be monitoring closely the investigation of the case against the Greenpeace activists.
Harf added that the U.S. authorities believe that "the purpose and nature of the actions taken by the defendants in attempting a peaceful protest should be fully taken into account as the Russian investigation proceeds.
Two Greenpeace activists detained by Russian authorities are American citizens, and Harf said U.S. diplomats had visited both of them since their detention.
Meanwhile, Russia said on October 23 that it would not take part in a case filed with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in which the Dutch government is seeking the release of the activists pending trial.
The Greenpeace activists and two journalists, including citizens of 18 countries, have been held in Russia since their ship, the Dutch-flagged "Arctic Sunrise," was seized by the Russian Coast Guard after activists tried to scale a Gazprom offshore drilling platform in the Arctic in September.
Based on reporting by Interfax, Rossia24, and Reuters