MOSCOW -- A court in St. Petersburg ruled Monday that three Greenpeace activists arrested in the Arctic could be released on bail, but denied a similar request by an additional member of the environmental group.
Those ordered released on $66,000 bail each included a Brazilian and two Russians, including a Moscow-based freelance photographer who was chronicling the Greenpeace expedition, according to Vladimir Chuprov, the head of the Greenpeace Arctic program. He said that Greenpeace intended to post the bail as soon as possible.
The group was arrested after taking an icebreaker, the Arctic Sunrise, to the site of a Russian oil drilling rig in the Barents Sea in September to protest oil exploration in a sensitive region.
“We can’t call it a victory yet, but it is good that the authorities’ actions are becoming more reasonable and more predictable,” Chuprov said in a phone interview. “On the other hand the charges are not lifted and it may be just a tactical concession on the part of the authorities to ease up the international tension around this high-profile case.”
The Russian court ordered Australian Colin Russell to remain in jail in St. Petersburg until at least Feb. 24, pending investigation. Twenty-six others also remain in custody.
[Updated, 1:14 p.m., Nov. 18: Later Monday, the court ruled that a fourth activist, Greenpeace spokesman Andrei Allakhverdov, could also be released on bail, the organization said on its Twitter account.]
The Arctic Sunrise was stormed by a Russian commando unit Sept. 19, the day after some of the activists tried to climb up the side of the drilling platform, which lies in a Russian exclusive economic zone in the Arctic. The attempt to board the platform was foiled by the Russian coast guard.
Authorities arrested 28 activists and two journalists, who were taken to the northern Russian port of Murmansk, where they were initially charged with piracy. After Russian leader Vladimir Putin publicly questioned the validity of the charges, they were dropped and the detainees were instead charged with group hooliganism. It carries a maximum prison term of seven years.
All of the detainees were transferred from Murmansk to St. Petersburg on Nov. 12.
“I haven't done anything wrong,” Russell said in court Monday. “I don't understand the reasons why I've been detained. I've done two months' hard time for nothing. I've done nothing wrong.... I love everybody. I am not a criminal.”
Alina Sinyakov, the wife of photographer Denis Sinyakov, said she was happy that her husband was being released and hoped to reunite with him as early as Tuesday.
Besides Sinyakov, the detainees granted bail were Russian physician Yekaterina Zaspa and Brazilian activist Ana Paula Maciels.