Russia drops charges against Greenpeace activists

Last updated 12:59 26/12/2013
David Haussmann
Reuters
BEHIND BARS: Kiwi David Haussmann attends a bail hearing at a court in Murmansk, Russia.

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Russia has formally dropped criminal charges against two Kiwis and all but one of the 28 other Greenpeace activists arrested in a protest against Arctic oil drilling, the group says.

Cristian d'Alessandro of Italy failed to get his criminal case closed due to the lack of an interpreter and will have to visit the St. Petersburg branch of Russia's Investigative Committee again on Thursday, said Violetta Ryabko, a Greenpeace spokeswoman.

The criminal charges against the crew were closed under an amnesty that was passed by the parliament earlier this month, seen by many as an attempt by the Kremlin to dampen the criticism of Russia's human rights record before the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

Kiwis David Haussmann Jon Beauchamp and the others will now be free to leave Russia and travel home to their families, once they secure exit visas.

Haussmann's partner, Sarah Watson, said in Nelson today it was now just a matter of waiting to get the final paperwork signed off to allow him to leave.

Watson, who is expecting the couple's second child in February, said she had spoken to Haussmann by Skype twice yesterday, and he was able to talk to his family.

The one remaining complication was to get the paperwork done before the Russian bureaucracy shut down for their Christmas break next week.

"The main thing is that it will happen, it's just a matter of waiting. The whole thing has been a matter of waiting."

Russia's treatment of the activists - who spent two months in detention and had faced hooliganism charges punishable by seven years in jail - had drawn heavy criticism from Western nations and celebrities.

Their amnesty will remove an irritant in relations in what Kremlin critics say is a move timed to improve Russia's image ahead of the Sochi Olympics.

"This is the day we've been waiting for since our ship was boarded by armed commandos almost three months ago," Peter Willcox, who captained the Greenpeace vessel used in the protest, the Arctic Sunrise, said in a statement.

"I'm pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all."

"That was an extremely odd Christmas morning," Frank Hewetson of Britain was quoted by Greenpeace as saying today.

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President Vladimir Putin has said Russia's response to a Greenpeace protest should serve as a lesson and Moscow would toughen steps to guard against interference in its development of the region.

Russia says activists endangered lives and property in the protest at the state-controlled energy giant Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora Sea, a key element of Russia's plans to develop the Arctic.

Greenpeace said the boarding of its icebreaker by Russian authorities was illegal and denied says its activists conducted a peaceful protest.

-With Reuters/AP

- Nelson

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