The six Britons held by the Russian state over charges relating to a Greenpeace protest have been granted bail, with five of the six released on Friday following an International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, sitting in Hamburg.
The tribunal, which is backed by the United Nations, also demanded the vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, which was boarded by Russian forces in September, be immediately released. The prisoners freedom came in exchange for a 3.6 million euro bond.
News of the captives release was greeted by elation by Greenpeace, who described the verdict as “historic”. Thirty people were taken prisoner by Russian authorities two months ago – 29 activists and two freelance journalists. Following the verdict in Germany, five Britons were released by courts in St Petersburg, including Anthony Perrett, from Newport in south Wales, freelance journalist Kieron Bryan, Alexandra Harris from Exeter, Iain Rogers from Devon, and Frank Hewetson from London.
One Briton, Philip Ball from Oxford, remains in detention though he too has been granted bail. The only member of the group of 30 to be refused bail is Colin Russell, a radio engineer from Australia.
Greenpeace International activist Alexandra Harris
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Bryan and Harris told how tough it had been when they were locked up after the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise was boarded by Russian security forces during a protest against oil drilling. Harris revealed she was kept in a cell on her own after being taken to a prison in Murmansk.
"For the first week it was really harsh. It was nerve-wracking," she told BBC News immediately after being released. "I was in a cell on my own. You do get used to it, but it was tough." Harris said letters from supporters had kept her going.
Bryan said: "More than anything, it's the isolation and not being able to speak to anyone, not being able to speak a common language. Being trapped in a cell for 24 hours a day is something I don't ever want to experience again, and there are a lot of people inside who have to carry on doing that.
"My plan now is to go to a hotel and have a long shower, leave my room whenever I want, never do another sudoku puzzle again, and speak to my family. That's the main plan. No idea about what happens next. I'm just focusing on getting through today, speaking to my family, and I'll deal with everything from then."
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After watching the live pictures of Bryan walking out of jail, his father Andy Bryan said: "We're absolutely thrilled Kieron is out. He looks tremendously relieved, in good shape, and doesn't seem to have lost his sense of humour either. Now we just can't wait to speak to him and then we'll hopefully be able to see him in person too. Of course, there are still these terrible charges hanging over him. He feels a terrible injustice has been done but has also made it clear that he intends to clear his name."
Perrett is a tree surgeon and director of a community interest company which encourages and supports the use of renewable energy. He said the Arctic was where the battle to save the planet will be fought. Friends said he went to the Arctic driven by his belief that there are ways to live on this planet without destroying it. Before he left, he said he was nervous but not afraid of going on the trip.
The 30 were arrested during a protest against drilling in the Arctic and were initially held in Murmansk before being moved to St Petersburg. They were charged with piracy but the authorities said this would be changed to hooliganism.
Greenpeace said the 30 had done nothing wrong, and the group has launched a worldwide campaign to have them freed.
Greenpeace International Arctic campaigner Ben Ayliffe said: "This saga is far from over. The detainees who were released yesterday slept well last night, though some of them stayed up late talking and talking, sharing experiences. They've been enjoying the taste of good food and the feel of thick mattresses, but they keep talking about Colin, asking when he'll be out, and they don't yet know if they can go back home or if they'll have to stay in St Petersburg."
Commenting on his brother Phil being granted bail, Steve Ball said: "We're absolutely elated, this is really good news. We now hope he'll be able to join his friends and colleagues out of jail soon. Despite the fact that Colin's family have been so gracious as to tell us to enjoy this moment, we'll be holding our breath until we know the outcome of Colin's appeal.
"We have been very impressed with the Save the Arctic message he's managed to sew on his T-shirt in Cyrillic. His mum used to be an embroidery teacher... she'll be very proud."
Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said: "Today is a historic day - a day when the fundamental rights of the Arctic 30 have been upheld by an international court of law. These 30 men and women were detained only because they stood up and courageously took peaceful action against Arctic oil drilling and to halt the devastating impacts of climate change.
"This ruling goes a long way towards rectifying the great injustice against the Arctic 30 and we welcome it with open hearts. Twenty-nine have now been granted bail by Russian courts, but this is not enough. This tribunal has clearly stated that all 30 should be free to leave Russia until the arbitral proceedings have been concluded."
Bryan thanked supporters on Twitter this evening, including those who backed the "Free Kieron" social media campaign, which helped organise a silent protest in his name outside the Russian Embassy in central London earlier this month.
He wrote on the social networking site: "To everyone who has followed @FreeKieron, sent a msg of support, or generally given two hoots about the #Arctic30 I thank you hugely. We're not free yet, but everything feels different today. I can't wait to hug/kiss/manly handshake as many of you as I can! #Arctic30."