Greenpeace says that, contrary to an earlier statement, Russian investigators have not dropped piracy charges against 28 international activists and 2 journalists detained in the Arctic city of Murmansk.
Investigators filed hooliganism charges against all 30 detainees over the past week, but failed to withdraw the piracy charges, the environmentalist organisation said.
Among those facing charges are Tasmanian Colin Russell and Australian permanent resident Alexandra Harris.
The Russian Investigative Committee said on October 23 that it had converted the piracy charges into hooligan charges.
A woman who picked up the phone at the Committee's press service on Friday refused to elaborate, saying that the agency would not make any further comments.
Greenpeace said that as a result, the 30 detainees stand accused of both piracy and hooliganism, which carry maximum sentences of 15 and 7 years, respectively.
The organisation's executive director Kumi Naidoo said the detainees should be immediately released once the piracy charge is withdrawn because international law prohibits one country from seizing another's vessels in international waters, except in extreme cases such as piracy.
"Allowing states to seize each other's vessels for lesser trumped up charges would be a major threat to international relations and commerce," he said.
Russia seized the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and detained its multinational crew in September, after activists had attempted to storm an oil rig in the remote Pechora Sea.
The organisation says that oil drilling in the Arctic is irresponsibly dangerous and risks destroying the sensitive environment.
However, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday that Greenpeace themselves had damaged the environment.
"Our country cannot support activities that potentially harm the environment and endanger humans," Medvedev said at a joint press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Interfax news agency reported.
The prime minister explained that oil platforms were so dangerous that even noble-minded protests against them are irresponsible.
"Nobody has the right to break the laws related to their operation" he argued.
Medvedev promised Ayrault that Russia would handle the case "just and strictly in accordance to law".
Greenpeace said on Friday it understood from diplomatic sources that the 30 are being moved from a detention centre in Murmansk to a jail in St Petersburg.
Naidoo said: "The detainees shouldn't be in jail at all, they should be free to join their families and to restart their lives.
"St Petersburg has some daylight in the winter months, unlike Murmansk, and families and consular officials will now find it easier to visit the 30.
"But there is no guarantee that conditions inside the new detention centre will be any better than in Murmansk. In fact, they could be worse."There is no justification whatsoever to keep the Arctic 30 in any prison for a day longer. They are prisoners of conscience who acted out of a determination to protect us all, and they should be free."