ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – Twenty-nine out of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested following a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic were freed on bail Friday from Russian jails, officials said.
The only one to be denied bail was also expected to be released after his appeal was heard.
Eighteen activists were freed Friday while the others were released late Wednesday and Thursday. Among the released activists was the US captain of the ship, veteran Greenpeace activist Peter Willcox.
Greenpeace lawyers said they would now help the foreign citizens to leave Russia.
According to the Associated Press, President Vladimir Putin suggested that it would be possible, jokingly telling Turkey’s visiting leader that the environmental activists would soon be heading his way.
“We have no desire to exacerbate the situation or hold someone specially,” Putin said during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Soon they will all be going to Turkey and will do good work on your projects.”
In response to a question of whether Erdogan would be allowed to take a freed Turkish female activist back with him, a smiling Putin said that would be impossible.
“He (Erdogan) came with his wife, so who else can he take along? What kind of question are you asking,” Putin said, according to the Associated Press.
“I feel like I’m down out of the tree but still in the forest,” Willcox told journalists after being freed. “But it’s a big step.”
Russian lawyer Genri Reznik has said that it was unlikely that the foreigners would be allowed to leave Russia so soon but that the charges against them would be dropped under an amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia’s constitution Dec 12.
The Associated Press said that all 30 still face hooliganism charges, which carry a sentence of up to seven years.
The activists were detained after some of the activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise attempted to scale an offshore drilling platform owned by the state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it would study a decision by an UN-mandated tribunal in Hamburg, Germany, ordering Russia to immediately release the Greenpeace ship and its crew in return for a $5 million bond.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea also ordered Russia to allow the Dutch-flagged vessel and those detained to leave the country.