ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - Russian jails have freed on bail 11 of the 30 people arrested following a Greenpeace ship protest in Arctic waters two months ago, but the charges against them still stand.
Bail has been granted this week to 26 of the people on the Greenpeace ship, and the bail hearings were to continue Friday. The rulings by judges in St. Petersburg could moderate the strong international criticism of Russia over the case.
Brazilian activist Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel, who was released late Wednesday, was the first to walk free. Her lawyer, Sergei Golubok, said Maciel could move about St. Petersburg and was given back her passport but she "is not going to leave Russia before the situation is cleared up."
Ten others were freed Thursday, including Russians Andrei Allakhverdov, Yekaterina Zaspa and Denis Sinyakov, as well as Camila Speziale from Argentina, Tomasz Dziemianczuk from Poland, Anne Mie Jensen from Denmark, Sini Saarela from Finland, Cristian D'Alessandro from Italy, Francesco Pisanu from France and David Haussman from New Zealand.
Russia's Federal Migration Service issued a statement saying that those granted bail can't leave Russia until the criminal probe against them is over.
But the state ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a well-connected Russian lawyer, Genri Reznik, as saying that the law doesn't ban them from leaving Russia pending their trial. He added that charges against them will likely be dropped under an upcoming amnesty marking the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution.
Greenpeace will "continue to keep up public pressure to get them released," its leader Kumi Naidoo said in Warsaw, where Greenpeace was an observer at U.N. climate talks.
"They have been through a very, very tough time. The prison experience has been extremely challenging for them to endure," Naidoo told The Associated Press.
All of those detained were initially charged with piracy, but investigators later changed the charge to hooliganism, which carries a potential sentence of seven years. Bail has been set at 2 million rubles ($61,500).
"Our case is not closed yet," said Allakhverdov. "We will fight for the case to be closed and for us to be found not guilty."
Greenpeace lawyers said an appeal will be filed to release Australian Colin Russell, who was denied bail Monday. Sinyakov told reporters that he believes that a decision to grant bail to the Greenpeace team came from the top, and Russell was denied bail simply because his case was first and the judge hadn't got the signal in time.
The 30 were arrested in September after the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, entered Arctic waters. Some of the activists tried to scale an offshore drilling platform owned by the state natural gas giant Gazprom.
Greenpeace contends Arctic drilling poses potentially catastrophic environmental dangers, while Russia bristles at any criticism of its oil and gas industry, which is the backbone of the country's economy.
"It became a story of our imprisonment, which is a pity, because the main aim of all this was not any violence or was not confronting anything but to protest oil drilling," Allakhverdov told the AP.
President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that while Greenpeace activists were pursuing noble goals, they were wrong in trying to scale the platform because they jeopardized its safety.
"Not all means are good for achieving even noble goals," he said.
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