Alexandra Harris
© Greenpeace
Alexandra Harris
A British environmental campaigner facing 15 years for alleged piracy has said she is "trying very, very hard not to lose hope," in heartbreaking letter to her parents in which she describes her dire conditions in a Russian jail.

Greenpeace activist Alexandra Harris was yesterday denied bail following a month in prison for her part in a protest against oil company Gazprom's platform in the Arctic's Pechora Sea.

She is one of six Britons among 30 people detained when armed Russian officials boarded their vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, last month.

In a handwritten letter to her parents, Ms Harris, 27, originally from Devon, said: "I'm worried about what's going to happen.

"I have moments of feeling panicky but then I try to tell myself there's nothing I can do from in here and what will be will be so it's pointless worrying.

"But it's hard. Surely my future isn't rotting in a prison in Murmansk?! Well, I really hope it isn't."

Appearing in court for her bail hearing yesterday, Ms Harris protested her innocence and said she was proud of Greenpeace's "non-violent, peaceful efforts" to stop oil drilling in the Arctic.

"The only thing that happened was a peaceful protest and I believe the footage and Greenpeace's long history can demonstrate this," she said.

"I'd also like to say that the protest was not directed at Russia - it was solely about Arctic oil and the threat it poses to the climate and the Arctic environment."

Greenpeace said it will not be "daunted" by the piracy charges the environmental campaigners are facing, as supporters held a candlelight vigil in London yesterday to mark their 30th day in prison.

The Britons, including videographer Kieron Bryan, who was documenting the protest, are being investigated for piracy, which carries a jail term of 10 to 15 years.

Bryan has said he is 'preparing himself' for a long jail sentence.

Along with Bryan and Alexandra Harris, activist Philip Ball and second engineer Iain Rogers have been detained for two months pending an investigation.

Two other British activists, Frank Hewetson and Anthony Perrett are also being detained, having had earlier bail applications denied.

The "Arctic 30" and their boat were taken from waters near the port of Murmansk on September 19 after two of them tried to board the rig.

Those arrested include citizens of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands, Finland, France, Sweden, Poland, Turkey and Ukraine and the US.

Greenpeace has warned a spill in Arctic waters would be highly damaging to the environment and the extraction of more fossil fuels would add to climate change impacts.

Gazprom's plans to start drilling from the Prirazlomnaya platform in the first quarter of 2014 raised the risk of an oil spill in an area that contains three nature reserves protected by Russian law, campaigners have said.

Meanwhile, 11 Nobel Peace Prize laureates have written a letter to Russian president Vladimir Putin calling for the piracy charges to be dropped, including South African archbishop Desmond Tutu and Northern Irish peace activists Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams.

The letter came after German chancellor Angela Merkel became the first head of state to raise the issue of the crew's detention with Mr Putin, urging a speedy resolution of the case in a phone call.

The families of the Britons involved have met with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss what was being done to bring their loved ones home.

Read the full letter here:
Dear Mum, Dad and Georgie,

It's very cold now. It snowed last night. The blizzard blew my very poorly insulated window open and I had to sleep wearing my hat. I'm nervous about spending winter here. I have a radiator in my cell but it's the Arctic breeze that makes the place very cold. I heard that from December Murmansk is dark for six weeks. God, I hope I'm out by then.

Not much happens on the weekends in prison. It's definitely the worst two days of the week. At least during the week I see my lawyer and hear of news. On Thursday I finally saw a few of the letters people have sent me. It was so nice I cried. There was one from you in there. Georgie's made me laugh as she signed off with, 'Chin up'. Ha ha! I am in prison but I will try to keep my chin up.

Sundays also mean it's revolting meatball night! Yuk! The girls laughed that I knew the food schedule already. But we got a shower today so that's good. The shower is like a waterfall. It's nice.

I should be going to court next week for my appeal, which is pointless because they have already been rejected. But anything to get out of my cell for the day! And if I'm lucky, I may see some of the others.

I'm worried about what's going to happen. I have moments of feeling panicky, but then I try to tell myself that there's nothing I can do from in here and what will be will be so it's pointless worrying. But it's hard. Surely my future isn't rotting in prison in Murmansk?! Well, I really hope it isn't.

Being in prison is like slowly dying. You literally wish your life away and mark off the days. It's such a waste of two months and I really hope it's no longer. Saying that, I am getting used to it. I'm doing a bit of yoga. I find it hard to meditate, though - too many worries on my mind as I'm sure you can understand. The music channel helps a lot. "I Will Survive" is played every night so Camilla [Speziale, an Argentinian activist also in detention] and I tap on the wall in beat with the song. Speaking to the girls every day really helps too. We still manage to have a giggle, which is quite good under the circumstances. We all received this metal device to heat water - for days I thought it was curling tongs. When I complained to the girls that the support team could have sent me something more practical than curling tongs, they laughed so much.

The bed is not getting any easier. I'm looking forward to a massage when I get out.

I'm a different person now; stronger. I cry less, which is a good thing. And I'm so appreciative of life. I will not take anything for granted now.

I hope you're all OK. I also hope the news isn't slowly dying. Trying very, very hard not to lose hope.


I love you, Alex xxxx