Russia drops first Greenpeace Arctic 30 case

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Media captionAnthony Perrett: "I couldn't speculate on the government's motive for releasing us"

Russian authorities have dropped criminal charges against the first of 30 people accused of taking part in a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic.

Anthony Perrett, from Newport, south Wales, said it was a "great relief" to have the case against him dropped.

He was in the group of 28 activists and two freelance journalists arrested in September as they staged a protest at a Russian offshore oil rig.

They were all charged with hooliganism - but have all been freed on bail.

They are being granted amnesty under a new Russian law, signed ahead of the Olympic Winter Games in Russia in February, which has seen several high-profile releases in recent days.

Greenpeace confirmed on Tuesday that one man from the "Arctic 30" group had been told his case was now closed, and that others were expected to receive notice soon.

An earlier report saying that three people had been notified for release was later corrected.

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Media captionGreenpeace's Ben Stewart: "They were brought to Russia illegally; they were seized illegally in international waters"

Mr Perrett, 32, later told BBC Wales that despite his ordeal, he was still proud of his actions.

"It's a great relief to have the criminal proceedings finally dropped," he said.

"From our point of view, we are entirely innocent. The only crimes being committed in the Arctic are those of the oil industry. So, we're relieved but we're not happy. Crimes are still being committed in the Arctic and that is of great concern to us all."

Mr Perrett has been told that he can collect his exit visa on Boxing Day.

Twenty-six of the group are foreigners - six of them Britons - and Greenpeace said they would be free to leave Russia once they had the right stamps in their passports.

"We know that getting those stamps would be the best Christmas present for the Arctic 30 and we hope it can happen quickly, but until such time as they do, we still cannot say when they will leave," it said in a statement.

'Legal protest'

The detainees, from 16 different countries, had sailed to an oil rig operated by Russia's state-run energy company Gazprom in September.

Image caption The activists and journalists have been on bail but unable to leave Russia

They were intercepted by Russian coastguards, who fired warning shots as some activists tried to climb on board the rig. Their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, was seized.

The group was initially charged with piracy but the charges were later reduced to hooliganism. They denied the charges, saying their protest had been peaceful and legal.

On Tuesday, Greenpeace spokesman Ben Stewart refused to rule out a similar protest in the future.

"I think it is probably too early to say whether or not we would do this again," he told the BBC.

"Our friends aren't even home yet and they've spent two months in jail. I would say, however, that for the last few years Greenpeace has been going up to the Arctic and taking peaceful direct action against Arctic oil drilling."

The Russian amnesty law was passed last week by the State Duma and could see the release of some 20,000 people.

It was approved as part of celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the adoption of Russian constitution.

On Monday Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, two members of punk protest band Pussy Riot jailed for staging an anti-government protest in a Moscow cathedral, were freed.

The women said the amnesty had been a PR stunt by the government ahead of the Sochi Games. Tolokonnikova called on countries to boycott the Games.

In an earlier move unrelated to the amnesty, former Russian tycoon and prominent Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was pardoned and released after more than 10 years in prison for theft and tax evasion.

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