ST. PETERSBURG — A Russian medic among 30 people seized by Russian coastguards during a Greenpeace protest against offshore Arctic oil drilling was granted bail on Monday, signaling some leniency was possible in a case that has drawn criticism abroad.
But earlier on Monday, a separate court denied bail to another arrestee in the case, Colin Russell of Australia. He had served as a radio operator on Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, that launched the action.
The 30 face up to seven years in jail if convicted of hooliganism for the September protest, in which activists tried to scale an offshore oil rig that is crucial to Russia's drive to tap the Arctic's energy resources.
The court ruled that Yekaterina Zaspa, a Russian who served as a medic on the Arctic Sunrise but was not among those who tried to climb the Prirazlomnaya rig, could be released on 2 million roubles ($61,300) bail.
Courts have repeatedly denied previous bail requests from all 30 people held, and their current term of custody ends on Nov. 24. But the judge at Zaspa's hearing said there were no grounds to extend her arrest for another three months.
Zaspa, 37, smiled as she listened to the ruling from a cage in the courtroom. She made no comment as guards led her out.
It was not immediately clear why the courts ruled to release Zaspa on bail but to extend the term of custody for Russell, who also did not attempt to scale the rig.
“I'm here to defend my innocence. I have not committed a crime,” said Russell, who was led into court in handcuffs and confined to a barred defendant's cage. “I have not lifted a hand in angry manner ever in my life. I have never been violent.”
Rulings in custody hearings for two of the other 28 arrestees were expected later on Monday.
“This is of course positive news, but this does not mean Yekaterina's ordeal is in any way over,” Greenpeace representative Mads Christensen said in a statement, noting that she is still charged and could face years in prison.
“And of course our beloved friend and colleague Colin did not get bail and is being sent back to a Russian prison cell for a further three months,” he said.
Russian coastguards forcibly boarded the Arctic Sunrise following the protest.
Greenpeace, which says the protest was peaceful and the charges are unfounded, has been voicing alarm over the rush for the Arctic's energy resources, which the group says threatens the region's pristine and unique environment.
It hopes the release of the 30, who represent 18 different nationalities, could be secured on Friday when the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is expected to rule in a case the Netherlands lodged against Russia.
But Russia has refused to take part in the case, suggesting it may not adhere to the court's ruling.
The 30 arrestees had initially been charged with piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. President Vladimir Putin has said they were clearly not pirates but that they violated the law.
Western leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed concern to Putin over the case and Western celebrities have voiced support for the activists. Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney has asked Putin to help secure their release.