Conditions of Britons in Russian prison 'broadly acceptable' - minister

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The Foreign Office has given details of its contact with British Greenpeace activists jailed in Russia.

Six UK nationals are among the group of 30 campaigners imprisoned in Russia for protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic, according to Greenpeace.

The protesters are being held in Murmansk and are due to be charged in late November. An original charge of piracy has since been changed to hooliganism, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of nine years.

Their case was raised by Labour MP Jim Cunningham at question time on 29 October 2013, who cited reports that the detainees "have not had access to medical attention and some are in solitary confinement".

Shadow foreign minister Gareth Thomas said there were "growing fears" for the prisoners' wellbeing and pressed: "Can I ask the minister what exactly it will take for the foreign secretary to persuade the prime minister to intervene on their behalf?"

Foreign Office Minister David Lidington revealed to MPs that William Hague had raised the matter with his Russian counterpart in two separate meetings and that a team of British officials are paying weekly visits to the prison.

He went on: "We have taken up with the prison authorities or with other Russian authorities as appropriate all concerns that the detainees themselves have expressed to us about the conditions in which they're being held.

"At the moment they are saying to us that their conditions are broadly acceptable."

He said the prime minister "stood ready to speak to President Putin whenever that would best help the welfare and a satisfactory outcome to the status of those who are being detained".

Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood took the opportunity to invite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to "refuse any offers of hospitality or visits in connection with Sochi's Winter Olympics in 2014".

Sochi in Russia is twinned with Cheltenham, the constituency represented by Mr Horwood.

Mr Lidington replied that the Games "provide an opportunity for people from this country including journalists and editors to meet and engage with Russians of all backgrounds and to stand up for the values in which we believe".

There has been pressure from campaigners including Stephen Fry to boycott Sochi because of a law passed recently in Russia banning the "promotion" of homosexuality, but President Putin has insisted gay and lesbian athletes are welcome.

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