Eight more people arrested by Russian coast guards during a Greenpeace protest against Arctic oil drilling were granted bail Wednesday, in a sign that Russian authorities may be slowly responding to international outrage at the detaining of 28 activists and two journalists in September.
Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel, one of the activists whose arrest drew international criticism for President Vladimir Putin, smiled as she left a detention center in St. Petersburg. Asked how she felt, the Brazilian simply said "happy," before being driven off by a Greenpeace representative.
A total of 20 of the 30 detained on Sept. 18 have now been granted bail this week following criticism of Putin over what was widely seen outside Russia as their harsh treatment, though the rest have yet to be freed. All previous bail requests had been refused.
Freelance journalist Denis Sinyakov, who was also among those detained, was expected to be freed on bail Thursday, his lawyer said.
None of those in pre-trial detention have their passports, and Greenpeace said it was not clear how much their movements would be restricted.
Meanwhile, one of the 30 had his detention extended by three months Monday, and all of those aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise icebreaker during the protest at a Russian oil rig could still face seven-year jail terms on hooliganism charges.
In a sign of an easing of their treatment, however, Russian courts granted eight activists bail Wednesday, including the pilot of the Greenpeace icebreaker who steered the vessel to the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnaya oil platform, where several activists tried to scale the structure.
Armed coast guards ended the protest, detaining everyone on board and seizing the ship.
Asked whether the decision to grant him bail pleased him, Capt. Peter Willcox, looking tired and wearing a white and purple checkered shirt, said: "Very, very much."
He was then led out of the courtroom in handcuffs by four policemen.
Willcox, 60, has been a Greenpeace activist for more than 30 years and was the skipper of the environmental advocacy group's ship Rainbow Warrior when it was blown up and sunk by the French secret service in 1985.
Of the 21 people who have appeared in court hearings so far this week, only Colin Russell, an Australian, has had his detention extended. Greenpeace says it is baffled by the decision to keep Russell, 59, in custody for three more months.
The arrests of the activists have unleashed international criticism of Putin. Initially Russia intended to file charges of piracy – which carried a 15-year jail term – but those were dropped in October.
Greenpeace says the protest was meant to draw attention to the impact of offshore Arctic drilling on the environment.
Investigators have sought three-month extensions of detention for the activists from 18 countries, but the Kremlin may believe releasing some on bail could ease criticism of Russia, which is set to host the Winter Olympics in February.