Patrice Dougan

Patrice Dougan is a NZME. News Service reporter based in Auckland.

Russian amnesty bill will see protesters released

Photographer Denis Sinyakov of Russia and Greenpeace activist Sini Saarela of Finland embrace each other after hearing about the amnesty bill. Photo / AP
Photographer Denis Sinyakov of Russia and Greenpeace activist Sini Saarela of Finland embrace each other after hearing about the amnesty bill. Photo / AP

A group of Greenpeace activists, including two New Zealanders, are trying to stay realistic over their chances of being home for Christmas, after the Russian parliament backed an amnesty bill to drop charges against them.

The protesters, dubbed the Arctic 30, spent two months in jail on hooliganism charges after a protest against Arctic drilling.

Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, voted in favour of the amnesty, which will be extended to people charged with hooliganism. It means that, as well as the Greenpeace activists, two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot could also be freed under the new law.

Legal proceedings against the 28 Greenpeace protesters and two freelance journalists are "now almost certain to come to an end", Greenpeace said.

"The 26 non-Russians will be free to return home to their families as soon as they are given exit visas by the Russian authorities," the environment charity said in a statement.

New Zealander David Haussman, one of the detained activists, said group members were trying to contain their excitement.

"At the moment there's a huge sense of relief, for me personally and for my family, but as far as celebrations go, not until I get home to be honest," he told Radio New Zealand this morning.

He added that to be "given amnesty of a crime that we haven't committed is a bit of a strange one".

"There's a lot of steps that have to take place prior to our release, so there's a lot of 'i's to be dotted and 't's to be crossed. To be honest we have no idea how long that may yet take."

Mr Haussman was captured along with fellow Kiwi Jonathan Beauchamp as part of the protest against gas giant Gazprom.

Peter Willcox, captain of the Arctic Sunrise ship, which was boarded and seized in international waters in September, said: "I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place.

"Now it's nearly over and we may soon be truly free, but there's no amnesty for the Arctic."

The amnesty bill has to pass a third reading in parliament before it can come into effect.

However, it is unclear when the non-Russian activists will be allowed to leave the country if the law is passed, or what will happen to the Arctic Sunrise, which remains impounded in Murmansk.

The 30 protesters were released from prison last month on bail, but were not allowed to return home.

- APNZ

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