Last of Greenpeace protesters granted bail in Russia
Author: Steve Gutterman
A Russian court on Thursday granted bail to the last Greenpeace activist still in custody over a protest against offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.
Australian Colin Russell, 59, will be released from pre-trial detention in St. Petersburg when 2-million-rouble ($60,000) bail is posted, Greenpeace said. All the other 29 arrested during the protest have already been freed on bail.
Russell was a crew member on the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace icebreaker forcibly boarded by Russian coast guards following the September 18 protest, in which activists tried to scale an oil platform run by state-controlled Gazprom.
All 30 people arrested have been charged with hooliganism and face up seven years in prison if convicted in a case that has drawn criticism from the West and is seen by Kremlin critics as part of a clampdown on dissent by President Vladimir Putin.
Russell was denied bail in hearings earlier this month, but his appeal was successful. It is uncertain when the non-Russians in the group, which includes people of 18 nationalities, will be able to leave Russia.
"None of us will truly be celebrating until they've been allowed to return home and the charges against them have been dropped," Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Ben Ayliffe said in a statement. He said they would remain in St. Petersburg for now.
The Prirazlomnaya platform is Russia's first offshore oil rig in the Arctic, where production of hard-to-reach hydrocarbon resources could bolster Russia's energy-reliant economy. Putin has called Arctic shipping and development a priority.
Greenpeace has dismissed the charges as unfounded, saying the protest was a peaceful attempt to draw attention to potential environmental damages threatened by drilling in the relatively pristine region.
($1 = 33.1880 Russian roubles)
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)