UK & World News

  • 18 December 2013, 17:37

Russia Will Free Arctic 30 And Pussy Riot

The Arctic 30 Greenpeace activists and jailed members of Pussy Riot are set to be freed under new amnesty laws.

The State Duma voted 446-0 in favour of the Kremlin-backed bill.

It will allow investigators to drop charges against the 30 activists fromGreenpeace's ship Arctic Sunrise detained in Russia's Arctic in September.

The activists, who include six Britons, were arrested after Russian authorities boarded their vessel following attempts by some of them to board an offshore oil platform.

They have been on bail but the 26 non-Russians among them were not allowed to go home.

Greenpeace said a last-minute amendment to the amnesty bill meant Russia would almost certainly end legal proceedings against activists who faced jail terms of up to seven years if convicted over the protest.

Arctic Sunrise's American captain Peter Willcox was quoted by Greenpeace as saying: "I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place.

"We sailed north to bear witness to a profound environmental threat but our ship was stormed by masked men wielding knives and guns ... We were never the criminals here."

Lawyers said the amnesty, which could come into force this week, would also lead to the early release of Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

Their two-year sentences over an anti-Putin protest in a cathedral have been criticised in the West as excessive.

Officials in Krasnoyarsk and Nizhny Novgorod, where the two women are currently held, have promised to free them "right away and without bureaucratic delay, probably tomorrow", Ms Tolokonnikova's husband Pyotr Verzilov wrote on his Twitter blog.

The pair's sentences run out in early March next year.

The lower house of parliament passed the amnesty, which President Vladimir Putin proposed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the passage of Russia's post-Soviet constitution.

The move has been largely viewed as the Kremlin's attempt to soothe criticism of Russia's human rights records ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi next year.

The amnesty affects a range of categories like mothers with dependents, minors and the elderly. However, it also specifically mentions the charge of hooliganism as well as the charge of participating in mass riots.

It does not require approval by the upper chamber of parliament and will come into effect when it is published, probably on Thursday.

The foreign crew from Arctic Sunrise will then request to leave, and still hope to be home by Christmas, said Greenpeace spokesman Ben Stewart.

"There is certainly a chance, but until they actually leave Russia everything is speculation," he said.

All were arrested after the ship was boarded by Russian special forces in September and were first held under arrest in a jail in northern Murmansk, where the ship remains in Russian control.

The Britons have been named as Alexandra Harris, Kieron Bryan, Anthony Perrett, Phil Ball, Frank Hewetson andIain Rogers.

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