She has spent two months behind bars in Russia, enduring freezing temperatures and spartan conditions. But 27-year-old Alexandra Harris is celebrating after being granted bail with three other members of the “Arctic 30” group of Greenpeace activists and journalists.
“This has been the hardest experience of my life, I’m really happy,” said Ms Harris, a Greenpeace communications officer who was born in Devon. “It’s not over yet but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s nice that the Russians made the right decision. I love my parents and look forward to seeing them soon.”
She had earlier told the judge: “Every day is a mental battle. The 30 of us have paid a big price for simply a peaceful protest. I beg you to grant me bail. I am a good person.”
Kieron Bryan, 29, a British journalist who was also granted bail, said he was looking forward to a good meal, a beer, and seeing his family. The St Petersburg court also gave bail to Anthony Perrett, 32, from Newport, and Peter Willcox, the American captain of the Arctic Sunrise, which was seized by Russian forces on 19 September after a protest over plans to drill for oil in the region.
They are expected to be released from prison on Friday or Saturday, although it is not yet known if they will be allowed to leave Russia.
Speaking for the first time since he was apprehended, Mr Bryan, a video journalist from London, likened his experience of being captured to a Hollywood film.
“Being boarded by armed guards, with no markings, we had no idea what was going on and they didn’t declare who they were. They just pointed their guns at us and told us to make way for them and they took over the ship,” he said.
“It was totally surreal. Great footage from my perspective as a journalist, I thought ‘what a fantastic story’. I had no idea it was going to carry on like this. If I’d known, I might have behaved differently.”
Cliff Harris, Ms Harris’s father, said: ‘This is fantastic news for us, although we don’t know what the bail conditions are yet and of course this is not a complete a victory as these charges are still hanging over her. We got up early this morning and have been glued to the computer screen waiting for the news. It was nice to see her come into the courtroom with a smile on her face and holding her head high.
“These must have been two incredibly hard months for her, and we’re incredibly proud of how she has conducted herself throughout this ordeal.”
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace in the UK, said: “Although this process is a long way from being resolved, the decision by the court to grant bail will come as a huge relief to friends and family. Our focus will now be to get the remaining activists released.”
The detainees were originally held on piracy charges, which carry up to 15 years in jail, but were later downgraded to hooliganism, which could result in seven. They were initially held in the Arctic port of Murmansk but were moved to St Petersburg by prison train earlier this month.
More than half of the Arctic 30 have now been granted bail, with only one of the detainees who have appeared in court being denied – the exception being Australian activist Colin Russell. Nine people were bailed on Tuesday and on Monday, Russian national Yekaterina Zaspa, who served as a medic on the ship, was bailed along with photographer Denis Sinyakov and activist Andrey Allakhverdov, while three other British activists are due to have their hearings by the end of the week.
Greenpeace is waging a campaign against plans to drill for oil in the pristine Arctic by companies including Russia’s Gazprom. It argues that the extreme conditions make a serious oil spill more likely.