"Arctic 30" Greenpeace Members Free at Last

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Members of the Arctic Sunrise crew, known internationally as the "Arctic 30," were freed on Wednesday by Russia's government. Charges against them were dropped as part of the amnesty reform passed by parliament, which many speculate is an attempt to deflect some negative publicity ahead of the winter Olympic games in Sochi. The group of Greenpeace activists had been on trial for a stunt where some of its members tried to board an oil rig operated by state-owned oil and gas monopoly Gazprom. Now, they activists say they will try to leave the country before it shuts down for New Year's celebrations.

"This is the day we've been waiting for since our ship was boarded by armed commandos almost three months ago," said Peter Willcox, captain of the Arctic Sunrise. "I'm pleased and relieved the charges have been dropped, but we should not have been charged at all."

Twenty-nine of the 30 members have already been processed, but authorities were unable to immediately locate a translator for the Italian-speaking member of the crew. (I don't even want to know what that poor activist had to go through before this point.)

The crewmembers were originally arrested in Murmansk, but were soon transferred to St. Petersburg to await trial. After posting a really high bail, they were allowed to crash at a hotel, instead of in their prison cells. Immediately after their arrests, it looked like they were going to be subject to harsh punishment under Russia's penal code: initially, it looked like the crew would be charged with piracy, a statue that carries a maximum punishment of 15 years. (Charges were eventually lowered after an international outcry. Also, they weren't actually pirates.)

Earlier this week, Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were also freed from prison. The duo was just three months short of serving out their full sentences for "hooliganism," while a third bandmate, Yekaterina Samutsevich, had been released earlier on a technicality. Other prominent opposition activists have also been released. So, you know, this might be an elaborate PR stunt by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Or, he might just be giving everyone an early New Year's gift.