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Russia grants two Greenpeace activists bail for Arctic protest

A court has extended the pretrial detention of one of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested for protesting Arctic oil drilling. However, another Russian court unexpectedly freed two activists on bail.

Becoming the first crewmember eligible for bail, the 37-year-old Russian doctor Yekaterina Zaspa had gotten the best deal so far of the activists, held two months now. Greenpeace announced it could take two days to transfer the 2 million rubles ($61,400/45,500 euros) for her release.

The court that granted Zaspa bail also set the same conditions for the Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov. The prosecution had demanded that the court extend his detention by three months, Greenpeace reported on Twitter.

A decision earlier Monday against an Australian activist also arrested aboard the Arctic Sunrise icebreaker, however, proved less optimistic for Greenpeace.

"This case is now a circus," Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement. "Our friends may now be in jail for months longer, all because they made a stand for all of us in the pristine Arctic. We will continue to pursue every legal avenue we can, and leave no stone unturned, until each and every one of them is home with their families."

On September 18, Russia put the 30 activists from 18 countries in pretrial jail after seizing their ship at gunpoint following a protest against oil drilling in the Pechora Sea. Authorities first held the activists in and around the city of Murmansk above the Arctic Circle but then transferred them to Saint Petersburg earlier this month.

'Done nothing wrong'

In the first case heard Monday, another court extended the extension of radio operator Colin Russell (pictured). The decision to "leave the pretrial restrictions unchanged until February 24" for Russell and deny his request for bail or house arrest shows just what obstacles the activists face.

"I have spent two months in detention, having done nothing wrong," Russell said Monday from a metal cage in the courtroom. "I have not committed a crime so I have nothing to run from."

For their attempt to board the Prirazlomnaya rig, owned by state petrol giant Gazprom, Russia initially charged the activists, known as the 'Arctic 30' with piracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. Charges were later reduced the allegations to hooliganism, with a punishment of up to seven years. Russell insists on his innocence.

"I love you all," the 59-year-old Australian said after the judge announced her decision. "I love everybody." In comments released by Greenpeace, he added that "I am not a criminal."

Trials to come

The two courts had planned to rule on the detention of half a dozen more activists and freelance journalists on Monday. Officials postponed some of those hearings until later this week, though they plan to wrap up by Thursday.

On Monday, activist Ana Paula Maciels from Brazil held several placards inside her metal cage. "I love Russia but let me go home," read one poster; "Save the Arctic," went another. Her lawyer urged the judge to think about Russia's international reputation.

"I am calling on the court not to violate the legal norms otherwise no one would come for the Olympics because no one would want to come to a country where law is violated," her lawyer, Sergei Golubok, said in court, urging the judge to think about Russia's international reputation ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter games.

Stars including Madonna and politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have called for the activists' release. The ex-Beatle Paul McCartney published a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that he hoped Russia would release the activists in time for Christmas.

Some have compared the global outcry over the heavy-handed treatment of the Greenpeace campaigners to the international shock following the jailing for two years of two members of the punk band Pussy Riot after they performed an anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral last year.

mkg/ph (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)