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20 Nov, 2013 13:38

Brazilian Greenpeace activist leaves jail in St Petersburg, another 8 granted bail

Eight crewmembers, including the Arctic Sunrise captain, have been granted bail ahead of their trial for scaling a Russian oil platform two months ago. The first Greenpeace activist – a young woman from Brazil – has left jail in St Petersburg.

Another environmental activist Alexandra Harris smiled broadly and bounced up and down, as soon as the decision was announced.

"This has been the hardest experience of my life. I'm really happy. It's not over yet, but there's light at the end of the tunnel,” she told the gathered media, who have been covering the trial heavily.

"It's nice that the Russians made the right decision. I love my parents and look forward to speaking to them soon."

Eighteen of the so-called Arctic 30 have now been released, following hearings that started Monday. Each of the activists' bail has been set at 2 million rubles ($61,300), to be returned when they attend the trial, a date for which has not yet been set.

Our focus now will be to get the remaining activists released," said John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace in the UK. "The Arctic 30 still face absurd charges for peacefully protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic."

Only one man who faced the court this week, 59-year-old Australian radio operator Colin Russell, had his pretrial detention extended, after being adjudged a flight risk.

Greenpeace says that it has already started transferring bail money and rented accommodation for released crew members and activists. It is not clear where they will spend the time ahead of the trial hearing, as most do not have valid Russian visas. 

First pic of #Arctic30 detainee Ana Paula out of jail. #FreeTheArctic30pic.twitter.com/1riZBCqky8

— Arctic Sunrise (@gp_sunrise) November 20, 2013

On September 18, Arctic Sunrise, whose crew from 19 different nations included two freelance journalists, approached a half-built drilling rig near Murmansk, owned by Russian state giant Gazprom. After climbing up its outer edge, activists were intercepted by armed guards.

The ship was towed to Murmansk, and all 30 were initially accused of piracy. The charges were later downgraded to hooliganism, which carries a jail sentence of up to seven years.

Greenpeace had staged a similar protest at the same rig a year earlier, without serious repercussions. 

The Netherlands, where the Arctic Sunrise is registered, has submitted a lawsuit demanding the return of the ship at the UN-backed International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, which will hear its case on Friday. Russia is set to boycott the proceedings, and ignore the body’s decision. It claims the continental shelf, where the rig is located, is in Russia’s sovereign economic zone, and the tribunal has no jurisdiction over it.