Nelson MP Nick Smith will meet the Russian ambassador in a bid to help local man David Haussmann who is being detained with his Greenpeace crew members on piracy charges.
Overnight New Zealand time, Mr Haussmann was denied bail after a 2 and a half hour hearing, Greenpeace said today.
Mr Haussmann is one of 26 international crew members and two freelance journalists from the Greenpeace protest vessel Arctic Sunrise who were arrested off Russia almost a month ago, charged with piracy and jailed. Australian-based Kiwi Jon Beauchamp was the other New Zealander on the ship, which was towed to the port of Severmorsk, near Murmansk.
The piracy charges laid against the crew, which carry a 15-year jail penalty, have drawn worldwide condemnation.
Mr Haussmann is the electrical engineer aboard the Greenpeace ship involved in a protest against Russia's Prirazlomnoye oil platform in the Barents Sea. Greenpeace New Zealand campaign manager Carmen Gravatt told the Nelson Mail today the ship's crew was now the activist group's primary focus. The organisation had put a team of 30 lawyers on the case.
"There's a huge effort being put in from all offices around the world," she said.
Mr Haussmann's hearing began at 1am today New Zealand time and by 3.32am his bail appeal had been rejected. Ms Gravatt said it was a good sign his case had at least been heard and not just rubber stamped.
She did not know the details of the courtroom process in Russia, but predicted it would not be as easy as being in a courtroom in New Zealand. A team of translators was on hand, but seeing pictures of the prisoners in cages while in the courtroom was particularly hard on the families, Ms Gravatt said.
Dr Smith has now moved to advocate for Mr Haussmann and his Nelson partner Sarah Watson in his capacity as local MP. The couple has a toddler and their second child is due early next year.
Dr Smith has a meeting scheduled tomorrow with the Russian ambassador to express his concern and try to help resolve the situation while respecting the independence of the Russian judicial system.
Dr Smith said he knew Mr Haussmann from his background in Nelson's marine industry.
"He is a good man and I take very seriously my responsibility as an MP to do all I can to try and help in this difficult situation. I met with his partner Sarah last week and I have written to the Minister of Foreign Affairs [Murray McCully] and the Russian ambassador to make representations."
Dr Smith aimed to convey his view to the New Zealand government and Russian diplomatic authorities that the piracy charges were "completely over the top".
"It was a legitimate protest but I think Greenpeace went too far with the attempt to board the platform, but my biggest concern was the charge of piracy went beyond what was reasonable, particularly as David was doing no more than working as an electrical engineer," Dr Smith said.
He also wanted to enable better communication between Russia and Ms Watson in Nelson.
Russian New Zealander Sergey Grinevich, who lives in Murmansk where the crew are detained, contacted the Nelson Mail after reading the initial story at the weekend and offered to help with liaison.
Mr Grinevich lived and studied in New Zealand for 15 years, and said he was happy to help this country.
Ms Watson has had three brief and indirect messages from Mr Haussmann since the events of September 18.
She worked and sailed for Greenpeace for about 13 years before the birth of the couple's first child, and said Greenpeace workers knew the risks, but this was "unprecedented".
Ms Gravatt said even the Kremlin Human Rights Council said the charges were "trumped up".
Russian president Vladimir Putin recently signalled to foreign media that the piracy charges were too severe, but lauded the coastguard for intercepting the vessel.
Ms Gravatt was pleased Dr Smith had moved to advocate on behalf of the family. "It's easy for some people to get lost on the point ‘they did something and should face the charges', but they never did anything like piracy, and it is concerning because of the scale of the [potential] sentence."
"It's very unpredictable but Greenpeace has an office in Russia and we have operated there for quite some time, so it's not like we went there with no idea." The prisoners faced being detained until at least late next month while Russian authorities carried out further investigations.
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