Thirty people arrested in Russia over a protest against Arctic oil drilling were moved from the northern city of Murmansk on Monday on their way to pre-trial detention centres in St Petersburg, federal investigators and Greenpeace said.
The 28 environmental activists and two journalists - including six Britons - were detained by the Russian coast guard in September when they attempted to scale Russia's first offshore Arctic oil rig.
Confirmation of the move came when lawyers representing the group tried to visit them early this morning, but were told by officials at the detention centre that the thirty were being transported.
A move has been rumoured since the beginning of November. Russian authorities have not said why they are moving the prisoners but it is thought that it will make things easier for prosecutors to hold a trial in Russia’s second city, rather than a remote frontier area.
Relatives and consular officials will also be able to reach them more easily in St Petersburg. It is not known if conditions in the new detention centre will be better than those in Murmansk.
St Petersburg is around 830 miles from Murmansk and Greenpeace said it may take from 24 to 72 hours before it becomes clear which detention centre or centres the group have been placed in.
Whether the transportation is being made by train or car is not known, although train is the most common method - a journey which takes over 24 hours.
Ben Ayliffe, a Greenpeace International spokesperson, said: “We don’t yet know if the relocation of these wrongfully accused people will see an improvement in terms of their detention conditions and basic human rights. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that the Arctic 30 are transported in a humane way.”
The activists were arrested when Russian military stormed their ship, the Arctic Sunrise on 18 September. They had initially been charged with piracy, but authorities have said this will be replaced with the less severe charge of hooliganism, reducing the maximum sentence from 15 years to seven.
“At the heart of the matter is the simple basic truth that their incarceration is unlawful. These people are neither pirates, nor hooligans, they are innocent,” Ayliffe said.
Moscow has said the protest posed a threat to the security of personnel and environmental safety by disturbing the work at the platform. The case will be processed in line with Russian law, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently told a press conference.
The Netherlands, where the Greenpeace ship is registered, has lodged a legal case with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea seeking to free all 30 of the group.