Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Debate - Kieron Bryan - House of Commons - 23/10/2013

Greenpeace Activists in the Russian Federation
Westminster Hall Debate - Statement
Westminster Hall
Wednesday 23 October 2013
09.30 – 11.00

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab):

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for securing this debate. I know that he is very involved in relations with Russia through his work in the all-party group on Russia.

I would particularly like to identify myself with the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), in whose constituency Kieron Bryan’s parents live; Kieron Bryan is my constituent. I want to speak about Kieron Bryan today and to say that he is detained in Murmansk, and that it has been a long time since 19 September; here we are on 23 October. It is a long time to be detained in Murmansk. He is not a criminal, he is not a threat to the Russian state, he is not a pirate and I say very strongly that I hope the Russian authorities will listen to what is being said in this debate and allow Kieron Bryan to come home.

Kieron Bryan was on a contract with Greenpeace as a journalist. He had worked for The Times, the Daily Mirror and in broadcasting; he had really done well in
his professional career. Aged 29, he had already made great strides in that career, and had taken up a short-term contract with Greenpeace to be on the Arctic Sunrise to record the crew’s activities. Now he is in solitary confinement in Murmansk.

None of us makes a habit of lightly second-guessing other countries’ criminal justice systems, and I certainly do not do so. There are many British citizens who are in prisons all around the world, but I say to the Russian authorities that Kieron Bryan is not a criminal, much less a pirate, and I hope that they will release him and allow him to return home.

I will also say something about the facilities in which Kieron has been detained. As has been said, to be in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, having been refused bail, is very hard indeed. Regarding his access to the outside world, I understand that his letters are brought in and he is allowed to read them, but then they are taken away. So he cannot even keep his letters and see what his friends and family are writing to him. He has only been allowed one book and he has now finished that. He was allowed one phone call to his family when he was on the way to detention. Since then, he has only had access to the phone last weekend, which is not acceptable.

I have asked the Russian authorities for Kieron’s brother, Russell, to be able to go out to Murmansk to visit him. A Russian prisoner on remand is allowed a visit from their family, but how much more does someone need a visit from their family if they are detained thousands of miles away from their home in a cell in a prison where they do not speak the language?

I hope that the Russian authorities will listen to what is being said. I thank the Foreign Office for the work that it has already done. I want it to do absolutely everything it can and to leave no stone unturned to get Kieron Bryan back home. I know that the Foreign Secretary is aware of and engaged on this issue, as is the Prime Minister. I thank the Foreign Office Minister who is here in Westminster Hall today for having a meeting with myself and other colleagues, and for the consular team and the team in the Foreign Office here who are working on this issue.

For my part, I will seek a meeting with Baroness Ashton of Upholland. Perhaps she can meet a number of us and can hear from us all how much we are concerned about this issue and how grateful we would be if she could do what she can to help.

I have asked for a meeting with the Russian ambassador, but he has not been prepared to meet me. Perhaps the Minister who is here in Westminster Hall today might encourage him to meet me, and perhaps I could go along with the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon. If a country has an embassy in this country, it is so that it can hear from people in this country what is going on, and to refuse to hear—as a matter of courtesy—what I have to say about my constituent, who is in detention, is wrong. I hope Russia will allow that meeting to happen.

I want Russia to allow visits; to allow Russell a visa; to allow books and phone calls—

Chris Bryant: The Russian ambassador is here in Parliament this afternoon at 4 o’clock for a meeting with the all-party group on Russia, if my right hon. and learned Friend would like to attend.

Ms Harman: Excellent. I will definitely attend that meeting, and I look forward to seeing the ambassador. I hope that he will take this issue very seriously and will listen to our concerns, particularly regarding the different situation of Kieron Bryan, who is a journalist. It is hard to know how much information Kieron is able to get, so many thousands of miles away as he faces a winter in a prison cell in Murmansk, but I hope he knows that for his family—his parents, Ann and Andy, and his brother, Russell—not a day goes by without their using every effort to help to bring his plight to the attention of the Government and the Russian authorities. His family will leave no stone unturned until he is back with them, and I will certainly do absolutely everything I can to help them too.

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