SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia — A Russian court granted bail to three foreign Greenpeace activists on Tuesday detained for a protest against oil drilling, the first non-Russians to be set free from 30 people arrested over the action, the group said.
A total of six crew members of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship will be released after two months in detention, but still face trial on charges that risk several years in jail.
Ana Paula Maciel of Brazil, New Zealander David John Haussmann, and Argentina's Miguel Hernan Perez Orsi will be freed pending payment of a two-million-ruble ($61,400) bail, Greenpeace said, citing the decision of a Saint Petersburg court.
On Monday, two courts in the former imperial capital said bail would be granted to three Russian activists but ordered Australian activist Colin Russell to remain in pre-trial detention until February 24.
Freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, spokesman Andrei Allakhverdov and Greenpeace ship doctor Yekaterina Zaspa also need to post bail of two million rubles to be released.
A Greenpeace spokeswoman said it remained unclear what motivated the judge to order the extension to the Australian's detention.
"It remains a mystery to us," Violetta Ryabko told AFP.
She said the group had collected enough money to ask the courts to release all 30 activists on bail of two million rubles each.
"In the space of two mornings we have had good news and bad, and the good news comes with a warning," Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement. "We still have no idea what conditions our friends will endure when they are released from jail, whether they will be held under house arrest or even allowed outside."
On Monday, pre-trial detention was extended until February 24 for Russell, a 59-year-old Australian.
Naidoo said the group remained "baffled and heartbroken that our colleague Colin was refused bail and sent back to prison for three months."
The ruling means he may remain in jail through the Winter Olympics that Russia is hosting in Sochi on February 7-23 next year.
A picture released by the environmental group showed Maciel breaking into a smile as she heard the ruling from her metal defendant's cage.
Appearing in court on Monday, the 31-year-old campaigner held a number of posters reading: "I love Russia but let me go home" and "Save the Arctic."
Hearings on whether to detain the others for a further three months of pre-trial detention were set to continue Tuesday at the two Saint Petersburg courts.
One of the courts will Tuesday decide on the detention for Finland's Sini Saarela, one of the activists who tried to scale a Russian state oil rig.
The 30 crew members from 18 countries were jailed in September after their Arctic Sunrise ship was seized at gunpoint by Russian security forces following an open-sea protest against Arctic oil drilling.
Their detention caused an international outcry, with stars including Madonna and Paul McCartney and politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling for their release.
The campaigners were first charged with piracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. The charges were later changed to hooliganism, which carries a punishment of up to seven years, although Greenpeace claims the piracy accusations have never formally been dropped.
They were first held in and around the city of Murmansk above the Arctic Circle but were earlier this month transferred to Saint Petersburg.
On Friday, an international maritime court will rule whether to order Russia to release the activists in a case brought by the Netherlands, the ship's flag country.
© AFP 2014