December 18, 2013

Maine-linked Greenpeace activist awaits amnesty in Russia

A Russian bill passed Wednesday may let the ship captain and his wife, an Islesboro woman, return to the U.S.

From staff and wire reports

An Islesboro woman is hoping that an amnesty bill passed Wednesday by Russia’s parliament will mean she can return home from St. Petersburg within the next week with her husband, the captain of the Greenpeace ship that was detained during a protest on an oil platform in the Arctic.

click image to enlarge

Greenpeace International activist and captain of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise

Maggy Willcox arrived in St. Petersburg on Saturday and was “so glad to be here for this unexpected twist,” she wrote in an email to the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday.

Her husband, Peter Willcox, was among the 30 crew members who were jailed for two months on charges of hooliganism after their ice breaker was stormed by Russian commandos in September. They were released on bail late last month.

Although Maggy Willcox seemed confident that her husband will be able to return home, Greenpeace representatives said Wednesday that there are still many variables that will determine if and when that will happen.

Maggy Willcox said Greenpeace’s staff, the so-called “Arctic 30” and their family members have been “holding (their) collective breath” over the past few days, in anticipation of the decision from the Russian parliament, or Duma, which voted 446-0 on Wednesday in favor of the carefully tailored bill.

The bill applies mostly to people who haven’t committed violent crimes, first-time offenders, minors, and women with young children. Lawmakers said they expect about 2,000 people to be released from jail.

The Duma adopted last-minute amendments to the bill to include suspects of hooliganism who are still awaiting trial.

The bill also would likely free the two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alekhina are serving two years in prison on charges of hooliganism for an irreverent anti-Kremlin protest at Moscow’s main cathedral.

The amnesty has largely been viewed as the Kremlin’s attempt to soothe criticism of Russia’s human rights records before the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February. But opposition lawmakers argue that it doesn’t go nearly far enough and that the complicated legislation appears to leave many questions.

Because of the “many ups and downs during this farce,” Maggy Willcox said, she and her husband initially had a “muted” reaction to the decision.

“But now it is real and only a matter of time until the paperwork is all sorted out,” she wrote. “How and when remains to be seen but we are hoping within the next week before the Russian holidays close down the administrative offices.”

Willcox, who publishes the Islesboro Island News, said they are not sure yet where in the United States they would land. Peter Willcox lives Connecticut, near his elderly father and his daughter in college. The couple, who first met while working on a sailboat in the 1970s, reconnected decades later and got married in February in Islesboro.

Russia’s top investigative agency has said that the probe into the incident isn’t over yet, and that some of the crew members could face additional charges, such as assaulting a law enforcement official, so it has remained unclear whether the Greenpeace crew will be pardoned.

Greenpeace said it hopes that the amnesty bill will allow foreign crew members of the Arctic ship to get exit visas and leave Russia.

“The Arctic 30 now hope they can spend Christmas at home,” said Greenpeace spokesman Aaron Gray-Block. “But it is too early to say.”

The crew members insist the charges against them are bogus.

“I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place,” said Peter Willcox in a prepared statement.

The amnesty will take effect as soon as the bill is published in the government newspaper, which is expected to happen on Thursday. It gives authorities a six-month period to carry it out, so some of the prisoners could wait weeks or months before getting released.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers contributed to this report.

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