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Three Greenpeace crew members granted bail over Arctic oil rig protest

A Russian court has granted bail to three Greenpeace crew members – a doctor, a freelance photographer, and a press officer – all detained since September 24 over the protest at an oil rig in the Barents Sea.

The ship’s doctor, Yekaterina Zaspa, and freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov – both of whom are Russian citizens – can be released as soon as two million rubles (US$61,300) bail is paid for each of them. Late on Monday, the court said that a third Russian citizen – Greenpeace press office chief Andrey Allakhverdov – could also be released on bail.

BREAKING: Andrey Allakhverdov (RUS) to be released on bail says court in St Petersburg. #FreeTheArctic30

— Arctic Sunrise (@gp_sunrise) November 18, 2013

The court rejected the prosecution’s appeal to extend Sinyakov’s arrest for another three months.  

The judge stressed that Sinyakov was only serving as a photographer on Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise vessel, and was not taking part in any protest action.

The bail must be wire transferred within two working days. If the money is not paid by then, the two may remain in prison until at least December 8. The bail money will be reversed in favor of the state if Zaspa and Sinyakov fail to appear in court. The cash will be returned to Greenpeace if the two do not violate the judge’s demands.

Earlier on Monday, Zaspa told the court that she believes her arrest was “unfair,” adding that she is now on unpaid leave and should be back at work, Echo of Moscow radio reported.

BREAKING: Ekaterina Zaspa (RUS) to be released on bail says court in St Petersburg. First of Arctic 30 to be free on bail. #FreeTheArctic30

— Arctic Sunrise (@gp_sunrise) November 18, 2013

In court, she stated that she is the only doctor at her hospital in the city of Puschino (120 km from Moscow), who is fully conversant with all the techniques of functional diagnostics.

A separate court in St Petersburg refused to free Australian activist, Colin Russell, one of the 30 people arrested following a Greenpeace protest against oil drilling in the Arctic.

Russell was the first to have his case heard, as investigators asked St. Petersburg courts to extend the detention period for all the accused.

All 30 people were remanded to a detention center after separate hearings two months ago. On November 12 members of Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise were transferred to St. Petersburg from Murmansk, where they have been detained since September 24, because their charges “do not fall under the jurisdiction of courts in the Murmansk region."

A handout photo taken by Greenpeace on September 18, 2013, shows a camouflage clad mask wearing officer of Russian Coast Guard (2nd R) pointing a gun at a Greenpeace International activist (partly seen R) during an environmentalists' attempt to climb Gazprom's 'Prirazlomnaya' Arctic oil platform somewhere off Russia north-eastern coast in the Pechora Sea. (AFP Photo / Greenpeace / Denis Sinyakov)

The 28 activists and two reporters were initially arrested on September 19 after an oil rig protest in the Barents Sea.

They were first charged with piracy which carries a possible jail sentence of 15 years. However, Russia’s Investigative Committee changed the charges to hooliganism, punishable with a maximum of 7 years in jail.

While prosecutors say Greenpeace activists “posed a real threat” to employees when they attempted to scale Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform, the environmental organization insists they are innocent of both charges. 

As one of the arguments against the piracy charges, Greenpeace pointed at satellite data that proving the Arctic Sunrise ship did not breach the 500-meter zone around the platform.

Earlier in October, the Netherlands filed a lawsuit against Russia in an international maritime court in a bid to win the release of the Dutch-registered Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise and its members.

On November 6, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea held a hearing in Hamburg, Germany, into the Arctic Sunrise icebreaker and its crew. The Netherlands demanded in court the release of all the activists.

The Dutch claim that the Russian coast guards’ boarding of the Arctic Sunrise, as well as arrests and prolonged detention, were in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law and, thus, was “internationally wrongful”.

Russia did not appear in court, as it had earlier dismissed the request sent to the tribunal and said it would not take part in the proceeding because it does not have to participate in legal disputes that concern “sovereign rights and jurisdiction.”

The Greenpeace activists’ detention in Russia has sparked a massive reaction among the group’s supporters, human rights organizations and celebrities, including former Beatle, Paul McCartney and also the singer, Madonna.