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Simon Pound: Lifejackets Optional

Lifejackets Optional

By Simon Pound
Friday, August 06, 2004

Tomorrow sees a free Zaoui concert happening at the Cityside Baptist Church at the top of Mt Eden Road. The afternoon kicks off at 3 30 and Don McGlashan will be playing. There will be poetry too, perhaps even a reading of a poem Zaoui wrote.

Later on a candlelit walk will take place, heading down to the gates of Mt Eden jail, the candles – according to the University students who organised this - will be a symbol of shared commitment to justice, equality and a world without fear.

This will be a protest to draw attention to the fact that a year has elapsed since Zaoui was granted refugee status, but as the SIS have gone about compiling a risk certificate - and trying to find someone who can keep their bias to themselves for long enough to review it - Zaoui has languished in jail.

In the course of this year that Zaoui has been treated, and locked up, as guilty until proven innocent his supporters seem to have gone back in time.

Poetry readings, candlelit walks and protests in general are not very now right now. Actually giving a shit is not very in either.

Embarrassment and apathy seem to have risen to the degree that someone mentions this kind of event and all you can think of is earnest sandal-y types talking about class war. Which is a shame because there are very serious problems with the way NZ is treating Zaoui that need to be addressed.

But you don’t see any serious assessments of it in the Herald until they weigh in with the Government line – that France and Belgium have their reservations – and they weighed in with this line before we even knew it was the Government line.

And now the Herald is going to print pictures of this as some kind of fell-out-of-the-sixties protest with glee – further marginalizing the issue into some kind of irrelevant hippy hobby horse.

The issues in the treatment of Zaoui are in fact tremendously dry. And tremendously numerous. There are whole websites, and one suspects lives, dedicated to compiling these so I shant try to canvass them – head out and have a look – but what I will assure you of is that every other country Zaoui has been to – even the ones that found him guilty of low level criminal association type charges - treated and housed him better than we have.

For 11 months he was in solitary confinement at Paremoremo – we don’t even do that to rapist murderers. But to a man claiming refugee status – and recieving it - we treat him with Napoleonic justice, guilty until innocent, when even the French managed to treat him better.

Maybe this is because NZ felt snubbed – he came to us via a handful of countries and ten years, and our being last to catch the political hot potato has left us angry. I mean before NZ came Burkina Faso, a snub enough to put sensitive Kiwi noses out of joint

But in any event if you are concerned about the way we are treating Ahmed Zaoui and how this reflects on our country it would do well to head along to the Cityside church. I’ll be there in spite of the planned candles and poetry. I can’t help but wonder how the flames will keep alight during such a wet action. Even so, regardless of your feelings about his guilt or innocence it does well to remember that the most sensible slogan in all this is ‘Free Zoaui or Give Him a Fair Trial” – because the ugly reality of this is that we wont even let him or his lawyers know what we are accusing him of. It is like something out of the dark ages


Simon Pound is a BFM wire host - Thursdays - where he (on alternate weeks) interviews Scoop's Alastair Thompson and Selwyn Mannings at 1.30pm. The above was first published @

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