Russian authorities have started issuing exit visas to the crew of the Greenpeace ship "Arctic Sunrise" after dropping criminal charges against the 30 activists. They had staged a protest at an oil rig in September.
Several Greenpeace members were preparing to leave Russia on Thursday after receiving transit visas from the authorities.
"Fourteen people have been given a visa," Greenpeace spokesman Arin de Hoog told the AFP news agency. "They will depart from Russia in the coming days."
Russia also officially dropped charges against the thirtieth and final member of the "Arctic 30" on Thursday; the case of Italian Christian d'Alessandro could not be processed on Wednesday owing to the lack of a translator.
Anthony Perrett from Wales was the first to receive his visa.
"I'll be leaving for home in Wales as soon as possible now, extremely proud of what I did three months ago," he said. "We took peaceful action to defend a part of the world that is the heartbeat of our climate."
The group had faced charges of piracy which were subsequently downgraded to hooliganism. All 30 were granted bail in the course of December, but were required to remain in St. Petersburg pending trials, which have now been shelved.
Some of the activists, four of whom were Russian, were free to leave immediately once the charges were dropped because they did not require exit visas.
The two journalists and 28 Greenpeace members were arrested on September 18 when some of them boarded a Russian oil rig in the Arctic as part of a protest. They were pardoned as part of an amnesty proposal that won unanimous support in the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, last Wednesday.
The same legislation helped bring about the pardon of two members of punk group Pussy Riot, both of whom were released on Monday. The Duma's ruling was applicable to both convicted prisoners and defendants awaiting trial on certain charges, including hooliganism.
The amnesties and pardons for high-profile prisoners, as well as a presidential pardon from Vladimir Putin for former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, have been broadly interpreted as an effort to soften Russia's international image ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February 2014.
msh/bk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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