Odd Christmas for Arctic 30 Briton

Witney Gazette: Activist Frank Hewetson while held by the Russian authorities Activist Frank Hewetson while held by the Russian authorities

One of the Britons among the Arctic 30 arrested during a Greenpeace protest has described his Christmas morning as "extremely odd" - but is expected to leave Russia "in the coming days".

Greenpeace said the group have been asked to attend a meeting at the investigative committee in Russia, where the criminal case against them is being "dropped en masse".

The Arctic 30 - 28 activists and two freelance journalists, including six Britons - were arrested after Russian authorities boarded their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, during an anti-drilling demonstration in September.

Their next step is securing exit visas in their passports before the non-Russians are free to leave the country and be reunited with their families.

A meeting with the Federal Migration Service is scheduled for later today and the Arctic 30 are expected to leave Russia "in the coming days", Greenpeace said.

Frank Hewetson from the UK said: "Well, that was an extremely odd Christmas morning."

The Arctic 30 have lived together in a St Petersburg hotel since being bailed nearly five weeks ago.

After their meetings they will have Christmas dinner together - possibly the last time they will all be together after a saga that started with a peaceful protest at an Arctic oil rig before they were jailed for two months.

The group was previously accused of piracy, but the charge was later downgraded.

The Arctic 30 were initially detained in the Russian port city of Murmansk before being moved to St Petersburg and eventually bailed.

A global campaign to free the group, spearheaded by their families and Greenpeace, put pressure on the Russian government to release them.

The investigative committee is today implementing an amnesty agreed by the Duma that effectively ended legal proceedings against the Arctic 30.

Yesterday just one of the 30 - Anthony Perrett, from Newport in South Wales - had proceedings against him dropped. Today the other 29 are joining him.

After learning Russian authorities had dropped his case, the activist said he was looking forward to getting home, even though he would not make it in time for Christmas.

''It's time to go home, it's time to get back to Wales, and I just got one big step closer,'' he said.

''I took peaceful action to defend a fragile region under profound threat and instead I was seized by armed commandos at sea and spent two months in detention.''

But Mr Perrett said the campaign was ''not over yet''.

''The Arctic is melting before our eyes and yet the oil companies are lining up to profit from its destruction,'' he said.

''This is why I took action, to expose them and mobilise people to demand Arctic protection. I am proud of what I did.''

Peter Willcox, American captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, said: "This is the day we've been waiting for since our 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.

"We have already discovered enough oil to dangerously heat the planet and we took action to prevent that. Giving the planet to the oil and coal companies is not an option."

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