By Scoop Co-Editor, Selwyn Manning.
A man active among New Zealand peace groups has been arrested over an email he sent to the U.S. Embassy in Wellington. Are the Police exercising powers drawn from the new Counter Terrorism Act to bring pressure against a well organized peace protest movement?
It is a curious series of events that led to the arrest of Bruce Hubbard tonight. Police had been seeking contact from Bruce Hubbard for over a week, wanting to talk to him over and email that he issued to the United States Embassy in Wellington.
Hubbard says he sent the email approximately six months ago, and well before counter-terrorism legislation passed before Parliament on October 22, but is suspicious of why Police left it this long before acting.
In a message to Hubbard, Police cite the email date as “Oct” but make no reference as to whether it is October 2002 or 2003.
Yesterday Hubbard emailed his contacts seeking legal guidance on what he should do next.
Today, Hubbard insisted the email that drew Police attention was ‘innocuous’. He said he was suspicious that the Police only made contact with him once the new anti-terrorism law had passed.
Tonight, Hubbard was arrested on misuse of telecommunications charges. Will more serious charges follow?
Over the last week Detective James Watson has been eager to track down Hubbard. He and other officers from Takapuna Police paid an unannounced visit to Hubbard’s parent’s home.
“He (Watson) attempted to extract my current address from my parents who refused to give it, much to their great credit,” Hubbard said in an email yesterday.
After the Police left, Hubbard’s father sent him an email detailing the Police’s demands.
“I just want to pass on the information given by Detective James Watson, Takapuna Police Station.
“1. Requests meeting with you at above station between 9 and 10am Wed 29th October.
“2. Discussion subject: your e-mail to US Embassy, Wellington.
“3. Matter is regarded as minor at this point providing you attend above meeting.
“4. If you do not appear at this meeting, then they intend escalating their investigations and the nature of the charges and will certainly initially delve into your computer IP to extract all information regarding your address etc and political activities.
Hubbard, fearful that he may become a New Zealand version of the ‘disappeared’ like those languishing at Guantanamo Bay, again refused to meet the Police, and said: “The reason given for the forced interview is logically false as they have had this email (the one he issued to the U.S. Embassy) since the beginning of the year and contains no threats, only political objections to the war on Iraq.”
After a time, Hubbard left a telephone message at Takapuna Police Station.
The Police replied:
“Thank you for your interesting phone message left last evening.
“I accept if you have exams that you could not make this mornings appointment.
“I do now ask you make a time suitable to be spoken to regarding an e-mail sent in Oct to the US embassy.
“I am available today, Thursday and Fri until 10pm.
“Please ring to confirm appointment.”
Public interest questions remain.
Did the Police factually wait six months to charge Hubbard? If so why did they wait this long, and are the Police moving to exercise the limits of probing new counter-terrorism laws passed in New Zealand on October 22?
Bruce Hubbard is an advocate for a free Palestine. His computer records would likely provide Police with networks of individuals who lawfully go about their work advocating justice for the oppressed. His views that the United States illegally invaded Iraq are shared by millions worldwide. His email to the United States Embassy likely displays outrage at the USA’s current foreign policy.
Will further charges be laid? Are the Police able to use the new Counter Terrorism Act’s powers on suspicion without charging under one of the Act’s offences?
The new Counter Terrorism Act gives Police stronger investigative powers against ‘crimes’ motivated by ideological, political, or religious motive. It allows admissibility of evidence obtained under an interception warrant (Judicial Warrant), allowing computer access and permitting the use of tracking devices.
The Act creates stiff penalty (carrying penalties of up to 10 years' jail and a $500,000 fine) for specified offences determined from new broad definitions applied certainly to activist-styled protest.
In Parliament, in the Bill’s second reading speech, Justice Minister Phil Goff specified the new offences to include: “to cause major economic damage; threatening to do, or falsely communicating information about, an act that is likely to cause risk to the health or safety of one or more persons, or major property damage, or major economic damage, intending to significantly disrupt the civilian population, or infrastructure, or the administration of government, or commercial interests.
Other new offences include: harbouring or concealing a person who has carried out, or intends to carry out, terrorist activity as detailed above.
In a statement issued after the Counter-Terrorism Bill became law on October 22, Goff said: “Police will also have the power to require assistance from a person where necessary, such as providing passwords to access computers, but the assistance must be both reasonable and necessary.”
A judicial warrant is required in all but ‘emergency situations’.
"This is the electronic equivalent to admitting a Police (officer) with a search warrant on to your property," Goff said. He rejected claims that the Act could be used to suppress lawful protests, and added: “Exercising a democratic right to protest will not see people designated as terrorists.”
So what is going on? Is the New Zealand Police now trying out its new shoes? Is it bowing to U.S. Embassy annoyance of emails that articulately detail the arrogance and absurdity if its President’s decision to illegally invade an almost defenseless nation (Iraq)? Or is the Police merely opportunistic in this instance, prepared to use the new Act to gather information on those active in the peace movement in New Zealand?
The pending case against Bruce Hubbard, should it go before an open court, will perhaps answer these questions.
If Hubbard’s email poses no more than a vague attitudinal threat to the state, then, it would be reasonable to conclude he is simply a suspect of political opinion.
Hubbard often signatures his emails with this Nelson Mandela quote: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty." Is this enough to draw down the weight of this new Counter Terrorism law or was the message more specific?
Do we now have a situation in New Zealand where to make such a comment as Mandela’s, is likely to result in erosions of one’s civil rights, and place one at risk of being branded a criminal?
In short, in this Post-September 11 world, most likely yes.