The family of a Canadian Greenpeace activist jailed in Russia expressed guarded optimism at news that officials have reduced his charge, but warns that his ordeal is not yet over.
Russia's main investigative agency said on Wednesday that the government had dropped piracy charges against 30 people involved in a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling last month and charged them with hooliganism instead. Piracy is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years, while hooliganism charges can carry up to seven years.
"It's better than piracy, but it's still not a get-out-of-jail-free card," said Patti Ruzycki-Stirling, whose brother, Paul Ruzycki, is one of the activists.
Greenpeace said the new charges were still "wildly disproportionate" and promised to fight them. "We will contest the trumped-up charge of hooliganism as strongly as we contested the piracy allegations. They are both fantasy charges that bear no relation to reality," Vladimir Chuprov of Greenpeace Russia said in a statement.
Russian investigators charged 30 people on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise with piracy after a protest at an offshore platform owned by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom on Sept. 18. Among them were Mr. Ruzycki of Port Colborne, Ont., the ship's chief mate, and Alexandre Paul of Montreal.
The activists are being detained in a prison in Russia's northern Murmansk region. In addition to the Canadians, the others involved are from the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine.
The Canadian government had little to say after news broke about the reduced charges.
"Consular services are being provided to the two Canadian citizens as required. Due to the privacy act, we are not able to share any more information on this matter," Adria Minsky, a spokeswoman for Lynne Yelich, a junior minister responsible for consular affairs, said by e-mail.
Ms. Ruzycki-Stirling said her brother, who sails around the world on environmental missions for Greenpeace, called home on Wednesday morning for the first time since he was arrested. "He called and said, 'I'm alive. I'm in decent spirits. I haven't been able to see or talk to any of my fellow crewmates since this started. They have us segregated,'" she said.
Mr. Ruzycki, who is 48, also said his cellmate is a Russian man who used to spend the nights yelling at other inmates through an open window that would allow snow into their cell. After Mr. Ruzycki requested solitary confinement, he told another sister that prison guards gave him a television, which his cellmate now watches at top volume all night.
"He said it's a complete madhouse," she said.
After a delay, Ms. Ruzycki-Stirling said her brother had finally received medication he takes for lupus and is surviving off care packages of fruit, nuts, chocolate, vitamins and tea from Greenpeace, rather than prison food.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the activists were clearly not pirates but that they violated international law.
The Investigative Committee dismissed Greenpeace's claim that the protest was peaceful, saying "anyone who illegally and premeditatedly seizes … a stationary platform is committing a crime, no matter what their motive."