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Canadians' release in Egypt buoys hopes for Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia

Greenpeace activist from Canada Paul Ruzycki looks out from a defendant's box at the Leninsky District Court Of Murmansk, September 26, 2013, in this handout provided by Greenpeace.


The Canadian families of two Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia hope the release of two men detained in Egypt will allow Ottawa to focus on securing the freedom of the environmentalists.

Paul Ruzycki and Alexandre Paul have spent two weeks in jail in Murmansk along with 28 other Greenpeace activists who face charges of piracy for attempting to board a Russian oil rig during a protest over Arctic drilling. Their lawyers were expected in court in Russia on Monday to appeal for bail for the detained men and women.

The news of the release of two other Canadians, Dr. Tarek Loubani and filmmaker John Greyson, after two months in an Egyptian jail, raised hope in Port Colborne, Ont., and Pike River, Que., where the families of Mr. Ruzycki and Mr. Paul have not heard directly from the jailed activist-sailors. They also say they've felt scant interest in helping secure the release of Greenpeace activists from the Conservative government.

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"We understand just as this was happening the Egyptian incident was going on with Canadians being actively tortured. We tried to stay out of it as we heard what was going on with John and Tarek in Egypt. We're hoping now this will free up more time to look at two other Canadians," said Patti Ruzycki-Sterling, Mr. Ruzycki's sister.

Ms. Ruzycki-Sterling said she understands "there is no love lost between our Conservative government and Greenpeace…But this goes beyond personal politics. This is Canadians being detained, and their rights being denied."

Officials from the offices of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Lynne Yelich, who is responsible for consular services, declined interview requests Sunday. Adria Minsky, a spokesperson for Ms. Yelich, wrote in an email that consular services are being provided for the two Canadians and that the Privacy Act prevents the government from sharing any other information.

Both Ms. Ruzycki-Sterling and Mr. Paul's mother, Nicole Paul, said consular officials were in touch to say they visited the two men late last week and they were in good health. Mr. Ruzycki's only request was to ask for potable water, his sister said.

Mr. Ruzycki, a 48-year-old veteran sailor, suffers from lupus, an auto-immune disease that can cause painful swelling and organ damage. Russian officials withheld his medication for several days but have started providing it, his sister said.

Ms. Paul said she was comforted by the presence of several dozen supporters at a protest Saturday night, including Jean-François Lisée, Quebec's provincial minister in charge of international affairs.

In an interview, Mr. Lisée said the decision of Russian authorities to lay piracy charges carrying potential prison terms of 15 years was "disproportionate."

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"We're calling on the Russian authorities to handle this situation proportionately. They've been in detention for two weeks. For such an action, this seems reasonable," said Mr. Lisée, who took care to say the government neither "approves or disapproves of the actions of Greenpeace."

Mr. Lisée said he hopes to be in touch with Mr. Baird "in the next few days to see how he plans to handle it."

Ms. Paul said her son, 35, has been a Greenpeace activist since he got out of high school and has been involved in dozens of international protests, chaining himself to a gate at a European nuclear facility and disrupting the Japanese whale hunt.

"He was aware it was dangerous. In Russia, they play a hard game and it's not necessarily the same game as other countries," Ms. Paul said. "His actions are sometimes against the law, but they alert everyone's consciousness without violence, without weapons. They don't hurt anyone."

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