One of two Kiwi activists leave Russian jails after judges grant bail to 26

Activist David Haussmann, from New Zealand, arrives for his bail hearing, at a court in Murmansk, Russia. Photo / AP
Activist David Haussmann, from New Zealand, arrives for his bail hearing, at a court in Murmansk, Russia. Photo / AP

Russian jails have freed 11 of the 30 people arrested following a Greenpeace ship protest in Arctic waters two months ago, but the charges against them still stand.

Bail has been granted this week to 26 of the people, including two New Zealanders, on the Greenpeace ship, and the bail hearings were to continue overnight. The rulings by judges in St Petersburg could moderate the strong international criticism of Russia over the case.

Brazilian activist Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel, who was released on Thursday, was the first to walk free. Her lawyer, Sergei Golubok, said Maciel could move about St Petersburg and was given back her passport but she "is not going to leave Russia before the situation is cleared up".

Ten others were freed yesterday, including David Haussman from New Zealand, Russians Andrei Allakhverdov, Yekaterina Zaspa and Denis Sinyakov, as well as Camila Speziale from Argentina, Tomasz Dziemianczuk from Poland, Anne Mie Jensen from Denmark, Sini Saarela from Finland, Cristian D'Alessandro from Italy, and Francesco Pisanu from France.

It's not known when New Zealander Jonathan Beauchamp's case will be heard.

Russia's Federal Migration Service said that those granted bail can't leave Russia until the criminal probe against them is over.

But the state ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a well-connected Russian lawyer, Genri Reznik, as saying that the law doesn't ban them from leaving Russia pending their trial. He added that charges against them will likely be dropped under an upcoming amnesty marking the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution.

Greenpeace will "continue to keep up public pressure to get them released", its leader Kumi Naidoo said in Warsaw, where Greenpeace was an observer at UN climate talks.

"They have been through a very, very tough time. The prison experience has been extremely challenging for them to endure," Naidoo said.

All of those detained were initially charged with piracy, but investigators later changed the charge to hooliganism, which carries a potential sentence of seven years. Bail has been set at 2 million rubles ($61,500).

"Our case is not closed yet," said Allakhverdov. "We will fight for the case to be closed and for us to be found not guilty."

Greenpeace lawyers said an appeal will be filed to release Australian Colin Russell, who was denied bail on Monday. Sinyakov said that he believed that a decision to grant bail to the Greenpeace team came from the top, and Russell was denied bail simply because his case was first and the judge hadn't got the signal in time.

The 30 were arrested in September after the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, entered Arctic waters.

Some of the activists tried to scale an offshore drilling platform owned by the state natural gas giant Gazprom. Greenpeace contends Arctic drilling poses potentially catastrophic environmental dangers, while Russia bristles at any criticism of its oil and gas industry, which is the backbone of the country's economy.

"It became a story of our imprisonment, which is a pity, because the main aim of all this was not any violence or was not confronting anything but to protest oil drilling," Allakhverdov said.

President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that although Greenpeace activists were pursuing noble goals, they were wrong in trying to scale the platform because they jeopardised its safety.

"Not all means are good for achieving even noble goals," he said.

- AP

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