Russia drops charges against Greenpeace Arctic crew

Arctic 30 Greenpeace group in St Petersburg (3 Dec 2013)
Image caption The activists and journalists have been on bail but unable to leave Russia

Russia is in the process of dropping charges against the remaining 29 Greenpeace crew members who were detained in the Russian Arctic.

Around 20 have been processed, with more expected later as part of an amnesty passed by Russia's parliament.

Twenty-eight activists and two freelance journalists were arrested in September as they staged a protest at a Russian offshore oil rig.

The case against one of the group, Anthony Perrett, was closed on Tuesday.

All 30, of whom six were Britons, had faced charges of hooliganism and were held in jail, first in the city of Murmansk then later in St Petersburg, before being released on bail in November.

The activists had been asked to attend a meeting at Russia's powerful Investigative Committee, where the criminal case against them was being dropped en masse, Greenpeace said.

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

But an Italian member of the group was told he would have to wait until Thursday to have his case dropped because no translator was available.

Officially the amnesty passed by parliament was to mark the 20th anniversary of the Russian constitution, but it is widely assumed that the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics were a major factor, says the BBC's Daniel Sandford in Moscow.

On Monday, two members of punk protest band Pussy Riot jailed for staging an anti-government protest in a Moscow cathedral, were freed under amnesty.

Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said the amnesty had been a PR stunt by the government ahead of the Sochi Games. Tolokonnikova called on countries to boycott the Games.

'Great relief'

Greenpeace told the BBC it was the start of the "final chapter" in their release. The group was hoping to return home before the Russian new year shutdown, our correspondent says.

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

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.

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

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.

Mr Perrett, from Newport, south Wales, told the BBC on Tuesday it was a "great relief" to have the charges against him dropped.

"From our point of view, we are entirely innocent. The only crimes being committed in the Arctic are those of the oil industry... and that is of great concern to us all," he said.

President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will toughen steps to guard against interference in its development of the Arctic region.

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