Russia has dropped all but one of the cases against 30 crew members of a Greenpeace protest ship following a Kremlin-backed amnesty.
The move on Wedensday marked the end of a three-month criminal probe against the 26 foreign and four Russian activists and comes less than two months before Moscow hosts the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
In what was widely seen as another in a series of attempts to improve Russia’s battered international image ahead of the event, Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was also pardoned by President Vladimir Putin and flew to Germany on Friday after a decade behind bars.
Russia’s highest court agreed on Wednesday to review the two sets of convictions against Khodorkovsky, who expressed hope that his jailed business partner would soon be released too.
Twenty-five foreign Greenpeace activists were summoned earlier in the day to the Investigative Committee to receive confirmation that the hooliganism probes launched after their September protest against oil drilling in the Barents Sea had been dropped, Greenpeace said.
Only Italian activist Cristian d’Alessandro failed to receive the relevant paperwork.
|Camila Speziale and Dima Litvinov have met Saint Petersburg residents ahead of their dropped case [EPA]|
Greenpeace said the delay was because of the absence of a translator and the Italian was invited to return on Thursday.
Anthony Perrett of Britain was the first Greenpeace member to have his case dismissed on Tuesday.
The four Russian crew members also benefitted from the amnesty.
“The final chapter in the legal ordeal of the Arctic 30 began today,” Greenpeace said in a written statement.
Their amnesty will remove an irritant in relations in what Kremlin critics say is a move timed to improve Russia’s image ahead of the Sochi Olympics.
Peter Willcox, who captained the Greenpeace vessel used in the protest, the Arctic Sunrise, said in a written statement that this was day the group had been waiting for since their ship was boarded by armed commandos almost three months ago.
“I’m pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all.”
The foreigners were expected to receive exit visas to leave Russia in the coming days, the group said.
Five people come from countries that have a no-visa regime with Russia.
“They also need the migration service sticker to leave,” said spokesman Ben Stewart.
The group said it expected Russian investigators to release all the equipment seized during the raid of the Arctic Sunrise, as well as the ship itself, which is still impounded at Russia’s northern port of Murmansk.
The icebreaker was boarded by Russian border guards and towed to Murmansk in September after several activists attempted to scale Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil rig.
The crew spent several weeks detained in local jails before being transferred to Saint Petersburg and released on bail.
Originally facing a charge of piracy, they were later targeted with the less severe hooliganism accusation.