ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — The first of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested by Russia in an Arctic protest two months ago was freed on bail Wednesday, in a case that has drawn attention both to Russia’s ambitions in the region and its hard line against dissent.
Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel walked out of a St. Petersburg pre-trial jail holding a sign reading “Save The Arctic.” She did not make comments to journalists before getting into a car with her lawyer.
Dmitry Artamonov, a Greenpeace representative, said she is “now staying in a safe place,” but he declined to give her location.
The 30 were arrested in September after a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, entered Arctic waters despite Russian warnings. Some of the activists tried to scale an offshore drilling platform owned by the state natural gas giant Gazprom.
The release of other detainees could moderate the criticism of Russia’s hardline stance. Russian courts have granted bail this week to 17 of the detainees, but they have yet to be let out of jail. Hearings are scheduled for another 12.
Greenpeace contends Arctic drilling poses potentially catastrophic environmental dangers. But Russia bristles at criticism of its oil and gas industry, which is the backbone of the country’s economy.
All of those detained were initially charged with piracy, but investigators later changed the charge to hooliganism. Although a lesser charge, hooliganism carries a potential sentence of seven years; piracy’s maximum is 15.
One activist was denied bail on Monday, but the approval of bail to others suggested a change in official strategy in the case.
A Greenpeace lawyer said an appeal will be filed to release Australian Colin Russell as well. Russell does not appear to have been singled out in being denied bail; his hearing simply came up first.
“None of our people will be truly free until they are all back home with their families,” the group’s international executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear whether any of those approved for release would be free to leave the country or move about the city.
On Wednesday, the ship’s skipper, Peter Willcox, and four other Greenpeace activists were granted bail of 2 million rubles ($61,500) each.