SAINT PETERSBURG - Russian courts on Tuesday granted bail to seven foreign Greenpeace activists detained for an oil drilling protest, bringing to 10 the number released over the last days and raising hopes of a solution to a case which has raised global concern.
Russia had held 30 crewmembers of Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise ship for over two months after activists in September scaled an oil rig in the Barents Sea owned by energy giant Gazprom.
Those released by courts in Saint Petersburg, in a move that surprised some, are unlikely to immediately be able to go home. They still face trial on charges that risk several years in jail.
Ana Paula Maciel of Brazil, New Zealander David John Haussmann and Argentina's Miguel Hernan Perez Orsi will be freed pending payment of a two-million-ruble ($61,400) bail each, Greenpeace said.
Also granted bail Tuesday were Paul Ruzycki from Canada, Tomasz Dziemianczuk from Poland, Italy's Cristian D'Alessandro and Camila Speziale, who holds dual Italian-Argentine citizenship.
They were the first foreigners to be granted bail by the courts.
On Monday, two courts in the former imperial capital said bail would be granted to three Russian activists but ordered Australian activist Colin Russell to remain in pre-trial detention until February 24.
Freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov, spokesman Andrei Allakhverdov and Greenpeace ship doctor Yekaterina Zaspa were released Monday, also on bail of two million rubles.
"In the space of two mornings we have had good news and bad, and the good news comes with a warning," Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement earlier Monday.
"We still have no idea what conditions our friends will endure when they are released from jail, whether they will be held under house arrest or even allowed outside."
The group's Russian branch said Greenpeace International had collected enough money to ask the courts to release all 30 activists on bail of two million rubles each.
'Baffled and heartbroken'
On Monday, pre-trial detention was extended until February 24 for Russell, a 59-year-old Australian.
Naidoo said the group remained "baffled and heartbroken that our colleague Colin was refused bail and sent back to prison for three months".
The ruling means he may remain in jail through the Winter Olympics that Russia is hosting in Sochi on February 7-23 next year.
A picture released by the environmental group showed Maciel breaking into a smile as she heard the ruling from her metal defendant's cage.
Appearing in court on Monday, the 31-year-old campaigner held a number of posters reading: "I love Russia but let me go home" and "Save the Arctic".
Hearings on whether to detain the others for a further three months of pre-trial detention were set to continue this week.
The 30 crew members from 18 countries were jailed in September after their Arctic Sunrise ship was seized at gunpoint by Russian security forces following an open-sea protest against Arctic oil drilling.
Their detention caused an international outcry, with stars including Madonna and Paul McCartney and politicians such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel calling for their release.
The campaigners were first charged with piracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.
The charges were later changed to hooliganism, which carries a punishment of up to seven years, although Greenpeace claims the piracy accusations have never formally been dropped.
They were first held in and around the city of Murmansk above the Arctic Circle but were earlier this month transferred to Saint Petersburg.
On Friday, an international maritime court will rule whether to order Russia to release the activists in a case brought by the Netherlands, the ship's flag country.