UK
25/12/2013 11:11 GMT | Updated 25/12/2013 11:11 GMT

Greenpeace Arctic 30 Get Christmas Day Surprise From Russian Government

Greenpeace protesters were called to an emergency meeting on Christmas Day with Russia’s powerful Investigative Committee, so the criminal case against them can be dropped en masse.

They will then have one more hurdle – securing exit visas in their passports – before the non-Russians are free to leave the country and be reunited with their families.

Frank Hewetson, one of the activists from the UK called it “an extremely odd Christmas morning.”

arctic 30

Photographer Denis Sinyakov of Russia and Greenpeace International activist Sini Saarela of Finland embrace each other

December 25th is not the day Russians celebrate Christmas, but Greenpeace say the 28 activists and two journalists will have Christmas dinner together after the hearing.

Peter Willcox, American Captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, said in a statement released by the charity on Christmas Day: "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."

Camila Speziale from Argentina said: "This is weird for me to receive this today on Christmas Day. I don't see it as a gift. We should not have to receive this ‘gift’ at all, we should be in our homes with our families today, it is ridiculous that we were arrested for a peaceful protest."

On Tuesday just one of the thirty – Briton Anthony Perrett – had proceedings against him dropped. On Wednesday, the other 29 are joining him.

Greenpeace International Arctic campaigner Ben Ayliffe said: "Greenpeace would like to thank the consular officials in St Petersburg who worked hard to get us this far. Even today many of them are giving up their own Christmas Day to push the migration service to process visas as quickly as possible.”

The Russian Parliament approved an amnesty decree last week freeing defendants who have been charged with hooliganism.

The group had previously been 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.