A Norwalk native being held in a Russian jail since he participated in a Greenpeace protest two months ago has been granted bail.
Greenpeace International said in a statement Wednesday that it had posted bail for 15 of the 30 people arrested, including American Peter Willcox. The organization did not expect the detainees to be released before the weekend, although it posted a video on its website showing a Greenpeace biologist from Brazil leaving jail in a car.
When Willcox is released, it is unlikely that he will be allowed to go home, said his wife, Maggy Willcox. The released prisoners probably will be required to stay in Russia while the investigation of the alleged crime continues, she said.
She was cautiously optimistic about the latest turn of events.
"I'm very happy and grateful that Peter will be in better living conditions than being in a Russian prison," she said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Maine. But, she said, "I've grown very skeptical of this whole process."
One of the imprisoned protesters was refused bail — a Greenpeace activist from Tasmania named Colin Russell, the organization said. He was ordered to be held for three more months, Greenpeace said. The status of the other 14 activists was unclear Wednesday.
The group, made up of 28 members of Greenpeace, plus a photographer and a videographer, have been in custody since Sept. 19, a day after two activists tried to hang a banner on an oil rig to protest drilling in the Arctic. Willcox, 60, is captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise.
The group of prisoners has been dubbed the "Arctic 30," and their detention has prompted protests and fundraising efforts throughout the world.
"I'm delighted to see that his status is moving in the right direction," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has been working with Willcox's family. "But I'm still unsatisfied and I'm taking steps to see him immediately returned."
He said he has written a letter and talked to people "at the highest levels of government," although he wasn't at liberty to name them, he said.
Phil Radford, Greenpeace USA's executive director, said, "We're thrilled that Peter has been granted bail, but we know his ordeal is far from over. Justice will be served only when Peter and the Arctic 30 are truly free from these farcical charges, and we will continue working on their behalf to make that happen as soon as possible."
Greenpeace raised the equivalent of $61,000 per prisoner — $1.83 million — for the bail, Maggy Willcox said.
Willcox said she had talked to her husband twice since he was taken into custody — once, a month ago when she was in Norwalk visiting his parents, and a second time on Nov. 1, when he called her in Maine. There, Maggy Willcox publishes a weekly newspaper called the Islesboro Island News.
There have been lots of developments along the way. One positive one was that the prisoners were moved from tiny jail cells in Murmansk to a different prison in St. Petersburg, where conditions seem to be better, Willcox said.
Russian authorities also announced that they were replacing the "piracy" charge with one of "hooliganism," but they haven't officially dropped the more serious piracy charge, she said.
According to Greenpeace, four inflatable boats left the Arctic Sunrise on Sept. 18 and headed toward a Russian oil platform of the state-owned Gazprom to peacefully protest what the organization is calling the "Arctic oil rush."
A Russian Coast Guard ship responded by launching inflatables of its own, manned with masked agents. They rammed and slashed the Greenpeace inflatables, and threatened the protesters at gunpoint and knifepoint, Greenpeace said.
The two activists climbed onto the rig, but retreated when they were blasted by water cannons. Several warning shots were fired as well, Greenpeace said. Greenpeace has videos of the protesters trying to climb the side of the rig and photos of the gun and knifepoint confrontations between masked Russians and protesters — whose arms were in the air.
Russian agents eventually boarded the Arctic Sunrise, even though Greenpeace says it was outside Russian territorial waters. Days later, the ship arrived at Murmansk, where the protesters appeared in court.
Blumenthal said he wrote a letter to Russian authorities on Oct. 1 asking for Willcox's release. The letter was co-signed by Maine's two senators, Sen. Angus King and Sen. Susan Collins.
A Democrat, Blumenthal noted that King is an independent and Collins a Republican. The U.S. Department of State has asked him not to release a copy of the letter, or to specify to whom it was sent, he said.
Citing Peter Willcox's ties to Massachusetts, Democratic U.S. Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren wrote to the Russian ambassador and asked that the charges against Willcox, and those against U.S. national Dimitri Litvinov, be dismissed. Willcox has a sister and cousins in Massachusetts.
That letter, dated Nov. 18, ends with this sentence:
"In the interest of maintaining friendly and cooperative relations between our two countries, we urge the Russian government to dismiss all charges against Mr. Willcox and Mr. Litvinov and release them into the custody of the American embassy in Russia so that they may swiftly return to their families."Copyright © 2015, CT Now