ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Russian jails freed three more of the 30 people arrested following a Greenpeace protest in the Arctic two months, after they posted bail, but the charges against them still stand.
Bail already has been granted to 20 people this week, and the bail hearings were continuing Thursday. The rulings by judges in St. Petersburg could moderate the international criticism of Russia over the case.
Brazilian activist Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel, who was released late Wednesday, was the first one to walk free. She was followed on Thursday by three Russian citizens.
The Brazilian activist's lawyer, Sergei Golubok, said Maciel was free to move about St. Petersburg and was given back her passport, but she "is not going to leave Russia before the situation is cleared up."
As a Brazilian, Maciel does not need a visa to be in Russia. Many of the other foreign activists, however, would need a visa to remain in Russia legally. It was not clear what arrangements would be made or if they would be allowed to leave the country.
"We don't know yet if they will be able to leave the country," said Patric Salize, a Greenpeace spokesman in St. Petersburg. "We need to figure that out with the Russian authorities."
All of those detained were initially charged with piracy, but investigators later changed the charge to hooliganism. Although a lesser charge, hooliganism carries a potential sentence of seven years. Piracy's maximum is 15.
Bail for each of those released has been set at 2 million rubles ($61,500).
"Our case is not closed yet," said activist Andrei Allakhverdov, one of the three Russians released Thursday. "We will fight for the case to be closed and for us to be found not guilty. I will go and take a shower now."
The two other Russians freed were ship doctor Yekaterina Zaspa and photographer Denis Sinyakov.
The 30 were arrested in September after a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, entered Arctic waters despite Russian warnings. 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. But Russia bristles at criticism of its oil and gas industry, which is the backbone of the country's economy.
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