Agence France-Presse

Russia releases 4 more activists on bail, including two British citizens

Environmental activists hold pictures of Greenpeace ship crew members imprisoned in Russia on November 16, 2013.

MOSCOW, Russia — Courts in St. Petersburg on Wednesday ordered the release on bail of four more Greenpeace activists jailed since mid-September, raising the prospect that Russia’s authorities may be easing up on a case that has galvanized international criticism of Moscow.

Two of the four who were granted bail were British citizens. One of them was Alexandra Harris, Greenpeace's communications officer, who said, "It has been the hardest few months of my life."

"Every day is a mental battle," she added. "The 30 of us have paid a big price for simply a peaceful protest. I beg you to grant me bail. I am a good person."

Peter Willcox, who captained the Arctic Sunrise, was also granted release, along with a Dutch activist and a freelance videographer.

The latest decisions come after nine other Greenpeace activists — from Brazil, Italy, New Zealand, Argentina, Poland, France, Finland and Canada — were granted release on Tuesday.

They will be allowed to walk free once their bail of around $61,000 each is paid, according to Greenpeace Russia.

On Monday, another St. Petersburg court agreed to release three Russians detained during the high-profile protest by the environmental watchdog on a state-owned Arctic oil platform.

Greenpeace has already said it has raised enough money to free the Russian activists.

Anton Beneslavsky, a lawyer for Greenpeace Russia, welcomed the news in a statement on Tuesday but added that it was “worthwhile to remember that the charges against them have not been lifted.”

All 30 of those detained — 28 activists and two journalists — still face charges of hooliganism, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison. Earlier, they had been charged with piracy, but those charges were reduced.

The Greenpeace affair has strengthened international condemnation of Russia’s legal system and human rights record.

It has also led to increased tensions between Russia and the Netherlands, under whose flag the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, sailed. It is suing Moscow over the incident in a maritime court, and a ruling is expected on Friday, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, an October letter from former Beatle Paul McCartney publicized last week urged President Vladimir Putin to release the protesters.

The court rulings also arrived amid comments from Russian Minister of Sports Vitaly Mutko that suggested the Kremlin was growing tired of international criticism.

He told the RBK daily on Monday that the authorities probably should have waited until after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to pass a federal law banning “gay propaganda.”

The law, which forbids the dissemination among minors of information that equates “nontraditional sexual relationships” to “traditional” ones, sparked calls from activists worldwide to boycott the games.

“It was possible to calculate how much resonance it would cause in the West, especially in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics,” Mutko said.

But he suggested that Western criticism was based on insecurities over Russia’s recent emergence on the world stage.

“They liked it when we were weak,” he said.

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