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Kevin List: Mr Zaoui Comes To Wellington

Mr Zaoui comes to Wellington

Story and Images By Kevin List

Ahmed Zaoui relaxes after another hard day of legalistic biffo at the Supreme Court in Wellington

The last time Ahmed Zaoui flew on a plane, he got nabbed at the airport, whisked off to a jail cell and interviewed without a lawyer present by the Police and members of the NZ Security Intelligence Service. After that, life for Mr Zaoui didn’t improve much, he ended up in solitary confinement in Paremoremo, without even his beloved Koran for company. What followed was ten months of taunting from guards, the occasional spot of mindless brutality and only lawyers and politicians for company.

Even though Mr Zaoui’s lawyers are among the best in New Zealand, and his political chums were a pair of very genial chaps, there’s not too many people in New Zealand who would have wanted to trade places with him.

Thankfully for Mr Zaoui he is now able to converse freely with more than just the legal profession and politicians after finally being released from two years of detention without trial in December 2004.

On Tuesday evening he even got to enjoy a slap up feast in a bohemian art studio deep in the heart of Wellington. During a rip roaring feast there was time for a spot of reflection at just how far Mr Zaoui had come since his first few nightmarish months in New Zealand.

Peter Maru Love, the Vice President of the NZ Council of Civil Liberties recounted his first attempt at meeting the mysterious foreign chappie incarcerated deep in the bowels of the notorious D block. Mr Love had to deal with the kind of insanely paranoid, petty bureaucrats who quite happily locked up a genuine refugee 23 hours a day for 10 straight months. Whilst the grumpy bureaucrats initially tried to rebuff Mr Love, his steely gaze, bristling mustache and threats of a sit-in with telly cameras eventually carried the day.

The evening's guest of honour then showed he hadn’t lost any of the political skills that very nearly saw him enjoying life as a member of parliament (in Algeria) with a few well chosen words about moving to the best capital city in the southern hemisphere permanently.

Scoop Co-editor Alastair Thompson enjoys a pot luck dinner and a chat with Mr Zaoui

Of course before Wellington is able to enjoy Mr Zaoui’s very genial and amusing company on more than just the most fleeting of visits, his legal team needs to wend their way through the ridiculously complicated and completely unfair security risk certificate procedure.

This travesty of natural justice is to be overseen by probably the most pompously named civil servant in New Zealand, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security. The reason this whole embarrassment is dragging on so long relates to petty bureaucrats who are under the sad delusion they are living out the TV show Spooks in their dismally decorated offices in Stout street.

These brogue wearing pen pushers are much like any of the other be-suited bureaucrats wandering Lambton Quay and scoffing coffee on the Terrace. Unlike any other bureaucrats however these people have virtually no-one checking whether or not they make any cock-ups. Needless to say, these bullet proof bureaucrats have no intention of saying they’re wrong.

The end result of this is Mr Zaoui gets to cook for the Dominican friars in Auckland, and hasn’t seen his family in person for two and a half years.

Sadly, given no politicians besides the Greens and Matt Robson have shown anything but indifference, or a desire to score the cheapest and lowest political points out of Mr Zaoui’s situation, the tedious security risk process is likely to drag on for another year.

Interestingly whilst Mr Zaoui was only 100 metres or so from Parliament during a sitting week, none of the politicians who have enjoyed flinging cheap insults and jibes at his expense bothered to wander over and meet the man. This was a bit of a shame as most politicians would probably have got on very well over a beer with Mr Zaoui - not of course that Mr Zaoui would have been drinking any alcoholic beverage himself.

Near the end of the second day of hearings regarding how Mr Zaoui’s human rights were to be safeguarded, Solicitor General, Terence Arnold’s voice droned on and on. All but the most dedicated aficionado’s of the case had by then passed out – glazed eyes dotted the lower ground floor of the High Court (where the Supreme Court is temporarily located).

Near the metal detector outside the courtroom a very nattily dressed middle-eastern gentleman joked with the two bored looking security guards outside the court. With his pressed pin striped trousers Ahmed Zaoui cut a far more dapper figure than the manacled prisoner initially shown to the world courtesy of Television New Zealand.

As Mr Zaoui left the court with his lawyers Deborah Manning and Rodney Harrison QC, schoolchildren pointed and waved and pedestrians wished him well. As the sun shone it felt like there was a world were Radio Pacific didn’t exist. Later that evening on TV One there was even a shot of Mr Zaoui joking with a journalist who was pretending to take a paparazzi photo of him. As he kidded around Mr Zaoui made a cutting gesture with his arm and laughed loudly.

Luckily it’s a long time since any NZ media outlet, besides Ian Wishart’s Investigate magazine, have run any lurid conspiracy theories regarding Mr Zaoui. No doubt if this action had been captured a couple of years ago there’d have been headlines like ‘security risk threatens jihad against media.’

After a tiring day under the neon lights of the Supreme Court Mr Zaoui jokes around

Two and half years after his arrival in NZ now only the most rabid journalists and basest politicians seek to make any sort of capital out of the Zaoui case. After following this case for a couple of years the only conclusion one can logically draw is that New Zealand needs more immigrants like Ahmed Zaoui and less immigrants working in talkback. Is there any remote possibility someone could issue Leighton Smith with a security risk certificate – please?


Ahmed Zaoui, Deborah Manning and Rodney Harrison Pack their bags and return to Auckland

******** ENDS ********

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