POLITICS

Greenpeace says two Canadian activists held in Russia have been released on bail

11/22/2013 05:35 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 04:01 EST
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - The two Canadian activists held in Russia after an Arctic protest in September have been released from custody.

Paul Ruzycki of Port Colborne, Ont., and Alexandre Paul of Montreal were among those from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise released Friday.

Nicole Paul, Alexandre Paul's mother, said she wanted to hold her son in her arms as soon as possible.

Patti Stirling, Ruzycki's sister, called word of her brother's release the best news her family has had in a long time and said it means part of a nightmare is over.

The two Canadians were among 30 people from the ship who were arrested following an anti-oil drilling protest in Arctic waters two months ago.

All but one of the 30 were free on bail Friday after spending more than two months in Russian jails. The only one to be denied bail, an Australian activist, also was expected to be released after his appeal was heard.

Greenpeace lawyers said they would now focus on helping the foreign citizens to leave Russia.

President Vladimir Putin suggested this would be possible, jokingly telling Turkey's visiting leader that the environmental activists would soon be heading his way.

"We have no desire to exacerbate the situation or hold someone specially," Putin said during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Soon they will all be going to Turkey and will do good work on your projects."

But in response to a question of whether Erdogan would be allowed to take a freed Turkish female activist back with him, a smiling Putin said that would be impossible: "He came with his wife, so who else can he take along? What kind of question are you asking?"

The U.S. captain of the ship, veteran Greenpeace activist Peter Willcox, was among 18 freed on Friday. The others were released late Wednesday and Thursday.

"I feel like I'm down out of the tree but still in the forest," Willcox told journalists. "But it's a big step."

Family of both the Canadians called for the charges against the activists to be abandoned.

"Paul is finally out of prison, and part of this nightmare is over," said Stirling, Ruzycki's sister. "But this senseless horror film will really end when the piracy and hooliganism charges are abandoned.”

Nicole Paul said she had been "waiting for this moment for more than two months, every day, every night."

The comments from Stirling and Nicole Paul were released through Greenpeace.

Reached at their home in Pike River, Que., Paul's parents told The Canadian Press their son was not happy the Canadian government hadn't exerted more pressure on Russia to release the activists.

"Mr. Harper didn't do nothing," said Raymond Paul, Alexandre Paul's father. "Why didn't he call Mr. Putin. . . . Nothing has been said. Maybe Mr. Harper has got a lot of trouble with his party."

That was echoed by Nicole Paul, who spoke briefly with her son on Friday. She said he was going to have a coffee with his lawyer before getting supper and then some sleep.

"He was very tired, exhausted," said the mother. Otherwise, she said her son told her he was in good shape but will undergo a complete physical and meet with a psychologist who specializes in treating people who have been detained.

The parents said both Canadians had to remain in Russia for the time being while on bail and are being housed at the same hotel. While Paul's mother and father know the story is not over, they remain elated.

"I was very happy and very relieved," Nicole Paul said of her reaction to hearing her son had been released.

"Finally! I know it's a victory and it's not the end of the road but it's a victory just the same. He's out. That's the important thing."

All 30 still face hooliganism charges, which carry a sentence of up to seven years. They were detained after some of the activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise attempted to scale an offshore drilling platform owned by the state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom.

Also on Friday, a U.N.-mandated tribunal in Hamburg, Germany, ordered Russia to immediately release the Greenpeace ship and its crew in return for a 3.6-million euro ($5 million) bond.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea also ordered Russia to allow the Dutch-flagged vessel and those detained to leave the country.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement it would study the decision.

Greenpeace lawyer Mikhail Kreindlin said there was nothing in Russia's criminal procedural code that would prevent the foreigners from leaving Russia, but for most of them there was another problem: They come from countries whose citizens need a visa to enter and exit Russia legally.

Kreindlin said Russia's Federal Migration Service has agreed to issue transit visas if investigators approved.

"Now we, our lawyers, will negotiate and work with the Investigative Committee to do it as soon as possible," Kreindlin said as he waited outside a detention centre to greet Greenpeace activists as they walked out.

A well-connected Russian lawyer, Genri Reznik, has said it was likely not only that the foreigners would be allowed to leave Russia but that the charges against them would be dropped under an amnesty to mark the 20th anniversary of Russia's constitution on Dec. 12.

Australian Colin Russell was the first one to come before a judge when the bail hearings began in St. Petersburg courts on Monday and the only one to have bail denied. Greenpeace lawyers have appealed.

Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov, who was released Thursday, said he believed the decision to grant bail to the detainees came from the top and the judge hearing Russell's case hadn't got the signal in time.

All of the others were released on bail of 2 million rubles ($61,500).

In addition to Willcox and the Canadians, the others freed from jail on Friday included six Britons: Anthony Perrett, Alexandra Harris, Iaian Rogers, Jonathan Bush, Frank Hewetson and freelance videographer Kieron Bryan. The others were Marco Weber of Switzerland, Mannes Ubels and Faiza Oulahsen of the Netherlands, Jonathan Beauchamp of New Zealand, Miguel Hernan Perez Orsi of Argentina, Ruslan Yakushev of Ukraine, Gizem Akhan of Turkey and Russians Roman Dolgov and Dima Litvinov.

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Vitnija Saldava contributed to this report.