UK & World News

  • 26 December 2013, 23:10

Greenpeace Activists Handed Russian Exit Visas

Seven of the 30 people arrested by Russia during a protest near an Arctic oil rig have been told they can leave the country after the criminal case against them was dropped.

Anthony Perrett, 32, from Newport, South Wales, was the first to be issued with an exit visa after being held in jailwith the others for two months.

"He will be able to go home before the New Year!" Greenpeace tweeted.

After getting his permission to leave, Mr Perrett said in a statement: "This was the final step. I'll be leaving for home in Wales as soon as possible now, extremely proud of what I did three months ago.

"We took peaceful action to defend a part of the world that is the heartbeat of our climate.

"The Arctic is a measure of our planet's health and I refuse to stay silent as the oil companies line up to profit from its destruction.

"Together we are saying to the oil companies that the Arctic is off-limits and that we must save this beautiful region for future generations."

The Briton who was also the first to be released from detention, spent Christmas Day in St Petersburg before being learning he was free to travel home.

The remaining non-Russian activists have since been given are also expected to leave Russia over the coming days.

A spokesman added: "The 30 benefited from the amnesty without admitting any guilt. The last person to have his case dropped was Cristian D'Alessandro of Italy."

The group had been arrested while staging a protest, in international waters, near an Arctic offshore oil rig owned by the Russian company Gazprom.

The activists initially faced a charge of piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but that was dropped and replaced by a charge of hooliganism, which carries a maximum punishment of seven years.

However, earlier this week, Russia closed the cases against the Arctic Sunrise crew members after parliament agreed aKremlin-backed amnesty.

The move was widely seen as an attempt by President VladimirPutinto improve Russia's image before it hosts the Winter Olympic Games inSochiin February.

A spokesman for the Russian migration service said: "More than 20 people from the Arctic Sunrise crew applied for visa documents."

But he could not guarantee that all the activists would get home before the year-end.

"We're not sure how it will turn out. But we are hoping that things will be in favour of the Greenpeace activists," the spokesman said.

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602, Freeview channel 82 and Freesat channel 202.