MOSCOW – In good news, Russia has begun dropping the cases against the 30 member crew of a Greenpeace ship who were charged with hooliganism over a protest against Gazprom drilling in the Arctic.
The criminal case against a British man, who was one of 30 people charged has been dropped, the environmental group said Tuesday.
The move is part of a Kremlin-backed amnesty.
“The first of the Arctic 30 has today heard the good news that the Investigative Committee has closed its criminal case against them,” a Greenpeace spokesman told AFP, naming the activist as Anthony Perrett of Britain.
Greenpeace said Perrett, from the city of Newport in Wales, has now requested an exit visa from the Federal Migration Service to allow him to leave Russia. He will hear back from the Service on Thursday to collect his visa, it added.
“It’s time to go home, it’s time to get back to Wales, and I just got one big step closer,” Greenpeace quoted Perrett as saying.
Perrett was in the group of 28 activists and two freelance journalists who were arrested in September as they staged a protest at a Russian offshore oil rig.
They were all charged with hooliganism – but have all been freed on bail.
Perrett said he was “proud” of what he did. “The Arctic is melting before our eyes and yet the oil companies are lining up to profit from its destruction,” he said.
After their criminal cases are closed, the activists will still need exit visas to leave Russia as they have never officially entered the country on their Arctic Sunrise protest ship.
“They will be free to leave Russia once they get the right stamps in their passports from the migration service,” said the Greenpeace spokesman in a statement to AFP.
“We know that getting those stamps would be the best Christmas present for the Arctic 30 and we hope it can occur quickly, but until such time as they do, we cannot say when they will leave.”
Russia had held the 30 crew members since September after two activists scaled an oil rig in the Barents Sea owned by Gazprom to protest against oil prospecting.
In apparent defiance of Greenpeace, Gazprom on Friday announced it had begun oil production at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig that had been the target of the activists’ actions.
Greenpeace argues that the ageing oil rig is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen which risks ruining the pristine Arctic ecology of the southern Barents Sea where the deposit is located.
Gazprom – already owner of the world’s largest natural gas reserves and a growing presence in the oil sector – says it planned to produce six million tonnes of crude per year (120,000 barrels per day) at the site by 2021.
The arrest of the so-called Arctic 30 – who hail from 18 different countries – risked becoming another bone of contention in increasingly tense relations between Russia and the West. Along with the 26 foreigners, there are four Russian citizens.
The Russian amnesty law was passed last week by the State Duma and could see the release of some 20,000 people.
It was approved as part of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Russian constitution.
On Monday, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, two members of punk protest band Pussy Riot, jailed for staging an anti-government protest in a Moscow cathedral, were freed.
In an earlier move unrelated to the amnesty, former Russian tycoon and prominent Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released after more than 10 years in prison for theft and tax evasion.