Five British Greenpeace activists and one Canadian left Russia on Friday after an amnesty that halted their prosecution for a protest against oil drilling in the Arctic.
Following a flight out of Saint Petersburg precisely 100 days after first being detained, the activists landed at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, with most then heading for Britain.
Anthony Perrett, Phil Ball, Iain Rogers, Alex Harris and Kieron Bryan — all British citizens — were smiling as they were escorted by police outside the airport.
An airport source said they were to continue travelling via the Eurostar train link to London.
The sixth activist, Alexandre Paul of Canada, remained in the airport transit area and was due to catch another flight, the source said.
Seven of 30 activists charged in the probe have now left Russia after Dmitri Litvinov, a Swedish-American, left Saint Petersburg for Helsinki on Thursday. Four of the so-called Arctic 30 are Russian nationals.
“We?re leaving Russia, it’s over, we?re finally truly free,” Harris said in comments before leaving, quoted by Greenpeace, saying she was “grateful and humbled” by the support she received.
“I promise I will repay those people by using my freedom to stand up for the Arctic,” she added.
Their initial arrest came in September when the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise was seized by the Russian security forces who winched down from a helicopter in a commando-style operation.
They were first detained in the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk and then transferred to Russia’s second city of Saint Petersburg.
It was courts in Saint Petersburg that in November ordered the release of all 30 on bail after over two months in detention. Their departure from Saint Petersburg was then made possible by the Kremlin-backed amnesty.
The Arctic Sunrise ship remains under Russian control in Murmansk.
All to have exit visas
The arrest of the Arctic 30 — who hail from 18 different countries — risked becoming another bone of contention in increasingly tense relations between Russia and the West.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service has said that by the end of Friday all the 26 foreigners will have been given exit visas.
Greenpeace said the activists will continue to leave Russia Friday and among them is expected to be US citizen Peter Willcox, the captain of the Arctic Sunrise.
Willcox is a veteran Greenpeace activist who was captain of its ship the Rainbow Warrior when it was bombed by the French secret service in port in New Zealand in 1985.
Dutch Greenpeace activist Faiza Oulahsen, who is also preparing to leave, told AFP earlier Friday she had “no regrets” over the protest and it had made her “even more dedicated” to saving the Arctic.
Danish activist Anne Mie Roer Jensen was also to leave Saint Petersburg Friday, Greenpeace Denmark said.
“I have been threatened with weapons, put in jail for two months and detained in Russia for another month accused of a crime I in no way committed,” the organisation quoted her as saying.
She vowed to continue with her activism, saying: “I’m already looking forward to once again standing on the bridge of one of (our) lovely green ships.”
The Russian parliament had passed amendments to the initial Kremlin amnesty apparently aimed at allowing the “Arctic 30” to benefit from it, stipulating that cases on those charges be closed even before reaching trial or verdict.
The two jailed members of Pussy Riot punk band, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were freed on Monday after benefitting from the same amnesty.
The amnesty comes less than two months before the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and critics have described it as an attempt by the Kremlin to shore up Russia’s human rights image ahead of the Games.
In apparent defiance of Greenpeace, Gazprom on Friday announced it had begun oil production at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig that had been the target of the activists’ actions.