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Russian court bails three of 30 Greenpeace protesters

Singer Paul McCartney performs during an impromptu concert to promote his album "New" at Covent Garden in London October 18, 2013. REUTERS/P
Singer Paul McCartney performs during an impromptu concert to promote his album "New" at Covent Garden in London October 18, 2013. REUTERS/P

By Maria Tsvetkova

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Three Russians who were among 30 people arrested for a Greenpeace protest against offshore Arctic drilling were granted bail on Monday in a case that has drawn fierce criticism from abroad.

Colin Russell, an Australian, was denied bail by a separate court earlier on Monday. He was a radio operator on the Arctic Sunrise, the Greenpeace ship used for the September 18 protest.

Western leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressed concern to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the case and Western celebrities have voiced support for the Greenpeace campaigners. Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney has asked Putin to help secure their release.

The 30 arrested over the protest, in which activists tried to scale the offshore Prirazlomnaya oil rig that is crucial to Russia's drive to tap Arctic energy resources, face up to seven years in jail if convicted of hooliganism.

The court ruled that Yekaterina Zaspa, a Russian medic on the Arctic Sunrise who was not among those who tried to climb the rig, could be released on 2 million roubles ($61,300) bail.

The judge also granted bail to Greenpeace activist Andrei Allakhverdov, 50, and Denis Sinyakov, a 36-year-old photographer who was documenting the protest and was on the Arctic Sunrise when Russian coastguards forced their way aboard a day later.

Courts have repeatedly denied previous bail requests from all 30 people, whose term of custody ends on November 24.

But the judge at Zaspa's hearing said there were no grounds to extend her arrest for another three months. The 37-year-old smiled as she heard the ruling from a cage in the courtroom.

In justifying bail for Sinyakov, the judge said he was a Russian citizen and married, with a child, suggesting he was less likely to flee Russia. Investigators said the arrests should be extended to prevent all 30 from fleeing abroad.

It was not immediately clear why the court extended the term of custody for Russell, who had not tried to scale the rig.

"INNOCENCE"

"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 defendant's cage. "I have not lifted a hand in an angry manner ever in my life. I have never been violent."

More bail hearings for the foreigners were scheduled for Tuesday.

"The case against the Arctic 30 has descended into high farce," Greenpeace representative Mads Christensen said in a statement. "They should all be released from prison. This is a scandal, this bears no relation to the administration of justice. We will do everything we can to get our people out."

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 it says threatens the region's pristine and unique environment.

It hopes the release of the 30 campaigners, who are from 18 nations, can 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 is boycotting the case, which means it is unlikely to adhere to the court's ruling.

The 30 activists had initially been charged with piracy, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Putin has said they were clearly not pirates but that they violated the law.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Steve Gutterman and Gareth Jones)

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