Russia drops charges against Greenpeace activists
Nelson man David Haussmann, who has been detained for three months in Russia, is one more step closer to flying home.
Overnight, Russian investigators formally dropped charges against all but one of the 30 crew of a Greenpeace ship, who were accused of hooliganism following a protest outside a Russian oil rig in the Arctic, the group said today.
The withdrawal of the charges followed 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.
The amnesty specifically included the charge of hooliganism, which was used to prosecute the Greenpeace activists and two journalists, who were released from prison recently but have remained detained in St Petersburg.
Mr 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.
Greenpeace said that foreign members of the crew had already applied to the Russian authorities for exit visas to leave Russia and expect to get them in the next few days.
Ms Watson, who is expecting the couple's second child in February, said she had spoken to Mr 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."
The 30 crew members aboard a Greenpeace ship were detained in September and held in custody for two months before they were released on bail in November. They were originally charged with piracy, but that was then downgraded to hooliganism.
"That was an extremely odd Christmas morning," Frank Hewetson of Britain was quoted by Greenpeace as saying today.
Peter Willcox, the United States captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, said in a statement released by the group that he was "pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all".
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has questioned the Greenpeace protesters' intentions to protect the Arctic and alleged that they were trying to hurt Russia's economic interests.
He said earlier this month that he did not mind that charges against the Greenpeace team were dropped under the amnesty, but he hoped that "this will not happen again".
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 today, said Violetta Ryabko, a Greenpeace spokeswoman.