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Why Thursdays’ anti-terrorism bill is bad

17 October 2007

Why Thursdays’ anti-terrorism bill is bad for New Zealand

Since 2001 our government has passed three pieces of legislation to “suppress terrorism” with the fourth now due in parliament tomorrow. This latest piece is the Suppression of Terrorism Bill 2007.

There will be many more such bills to follow in the future.

The government says it is just doing its part supporting international moves to isolate and control terrorism. In reality it’s part of the US leadership’s drive to have American foreign policy objectives adopted by governments around the world.

So what are the latest changes and why are they dangerous?

Change 1: Under the proposed law the definition of a terrorist changes to someone who, for political reasons, causes “serious disruption to an infrastructure facility, if likely to endanger human life…”

Effect: There are many examples of protest activity and civil disobedience from past events such as the 1981 Springbok tour which could now be classified as terrorist. (A better definition would be the UN definition of “criminal acts, including those against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public…”)

Change 2: Under this legislation New Zealand would automatically adopt the UN list of terrorists and terrorist organisations. It is the US which dominates the compilation of these lists.

Effect: New Zealanders working to support liberation struggles, democracy and human rights overseas would now face the prospect of being charged with supporting terrorist organisations. Under the new proposal it would have been illegal to provide support for the African National Congress in the fight against apartheid or for campaigns to have Nelson Mandela released from jail. It could easily also be used against New Zealanders supporting Palestinian groups such as Hamas despite Hamas being democratically elected to power in the occupied territory of Palestine. (Previous legislation allowed support and assistance to organisations provided it was “for the purpose of advocating democratic government or the protection of human rights”. This wording is to be removed)

Change 3: New Zealand would give up its right to make its own independent assessments of terrorists and terrorist designations.

Effect: Without the ability to make our own independent assessments we become captive to shonky, prejudiced, politically motivated overseas assessments such as those relating to Ahmed Zaoui. (Previously New Zealand adopted UN designations “in the absence of evidence to the contrary”. This safeguard would be removed)

Change 4: The courts are removed from considering designations of terrorist or terrorist organisations. (At the moment if the Prime Minister designates a terrorist organisation then this is reviewable by the High court after three years)

Effect: Independent scrutiny of cases will no longer be available. The PM will be judge and jury. The US wants this because governments are then more open to international pressure. At least with the courts there is the semblance of independent scrutiny.

This assumption of power by politicians over court processes is demonstrated most clearly by the US with its treatment of Guantanemo Bay detainees and the CIA’s “rendition” programme whereby suspected terrorists have been clandestinely transferred around the world for torture. In both cases the courts have been sidelined. It would be a disgrace for New Zealand to follow.

Monday’s arrests Monday’s police action in arresting 17 people on gun charges and raising the spectre of terrorism charges to follow is an attempt to soften the public up to the idea we have terrorism in New Zealand.

This creates a climate of fear and makes it easier to pass anti-terrorism laws which inevitably undermine the civil rights of New Zealanders and our relations with organisations overseas.

The government should withdraw this grubby piece of legislation.

ENDS

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