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December 27, 2013 | UhuruSpirit

A picture released by Greenpeace International on December 18, 2013 in St Petersburg shows Greenpeace activists (from L) Alex Harris and Phil Ball from Britain, Faiza Oulahsen from Netherlands and Camila Speziale from Argentina (Greenpeace International/AFP/File, Dmitri Sharomov)

Moscow — A Greenpeace activist who spent more than two months in prison in Russia over a protest against oil drilling said on Friday the ordeal had made her "even more dedicated" to saving the Arctic environment.

Dutch activist Faiza Oulahsen told AFP she had "no regrets" over the protest against a Gazprom rig in the Barents Sea, in an interview just before leaving Russia after benefitting from a Kremlin-backed amnesty.

Oulahsen and 29 other crew members of the Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise ship were detained in September at sea and then held in prisons in Murmansk and then Saint Petersburg before being released on bail.

All 26 foreign activists in the so-called Arctic 30 are now in the process of leaving Russia, after the Kremlin amnesty prompted the criminal cases against them on hooliganism charges to be halted.

"I have no regrets, I did not have regrets when the ship was boarded or during the two months detention," Oulahsen, 26, told AFP by telephone as she prepared to leave Saint Peterburg.

Their initial arrest came when the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise was seized by the Russian security forces who winched down from a helicopter in a commando-style operation.

"We did nothing wrong and I am still very dedicated to saving the Arctic and stopping Arctic oil drilling," she added.

"You can say I have become even more dedicated while in prison."

"They put us away for two months on absurd charges. I kept saying (while in prison) I am going to continue working as a campaigner, no matter what they do."

'Do I need to be sorry? No.'

The activists were first slapped with piracy charges although they were then reduced to hooliganism charges. But this still risked seeing them all jailed for several years if the case was brought to trial.

The entire crew was arrested after two activists scaled Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya oil platform, which Greenpeace has warned is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

"Do I need to say sorry for a crime I did not commit? Do I need to say sorry for trying to protect the Arctic for future generations? No. I took action for something I believe in, in a peaceful non-violent way," said Oulahsen.

She described an announcement by Gazprom on December 20 that it had already launched production from the Prirazlomnaya platform as a "slap in the face".

"But you are not going to win the fight over the Arctic in a couple of months or with one action. Environmental battles like these take years and this is only the beginning."

'I barely slept for a week'

Oulahsen said her biggest low was when all the activists were ordered to spend two months in pre-trial detention in Murmansk days after their arrest.

"From that moment I barely slept or ate for a week, I lost a lot of weight. My first concern was for my mother."

"I was concerned about ending up behind bars in a country where anything can happen," she said.

She said rats appeared in her cell in Murmansk and a window was broken. But consolation came from the prison walks when she could shout over the walls to her fellow Greenpeace campaigners.

Then the realisation came that "this is a political process, they want to scare us, this is a statement, they want to make us suffer for a while" but in the end everything would be fine.

After her release on bail in late November, Oulahsen said she was able to enjoy some of the attractions of Russia's former imperial capital.

But "if you are locked up for two months it is a pretty big transition to be on the street with no guards and nobody next to you," she said. - AFP

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