By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor
See Also... Scoop Backgrounder report by Kevin List...
The Department of Corrections’ head psychologist has told the Auckland High Court that Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui is at the bottom of a scale of risk used to assess those seeking bail.
Dr Ronnie Zuessman was called as a witness during the first day of a High Court application seeking bail for Ahmed Zaoui or his release from prison.
The Corrections Department considers bail applicants against a series of psychological and personality tests that gauge the applicant’s risk to the community, risk of re-offending, risk of interpersonal violence, and risk of flight.
The scale ranges from “extremely high risk” at one end of the spectrum through to “very low risk” at the opposite end.
During evaluations, Dr Ronnie Zuessman exposed Zaoui to 60 hours of “intensive” psychological tests. Most bail applicants are only evaluated for four to six hours before an assessment risk is ascertained.
Ahmed Zaoui, Dr Zuessman found to be a low risk.
“If considering the issue of risk within the community of committing any offence or serious offence, disturbing public order, or interpersonal violence, or flight for that matter, I would say Mr Zaoui appears to be at a very low risk” Dr Zuessman said.
Ahmed Zaoui is an Algerian academic, elected MP, and refugee who seeks asylum in New Zealand from a ruling Algerian military regime that in absentia sentenced him to death for alleged security crimes. Those convictions and related convictions in Belgium and France (countries closely aligned to the Algerian regime) have been deemed “unsafe” inaccurate and politicised by the New Zealand judicial body, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority.
Zaoui has been held in New Zealand prisons since his arrival in 1992, much of that time in solitary confinement. The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service on March 20 2003 issued a security risk certificate against Zaoui.
Zaoui’s lawyers Rodney Harrison QC and Deborah Manning seek his release from Auckland City Remand Prison (near Mt Eden Prison) asking that the Court issue an order that Zaoui be transferred to the Mangere Refugee Detention Centre or alternatively to the Auckland Dominican community.
However the New Zealand Immigration Service’s chief operating officer for refugee centres, Noel Quirk, said the Mangere Refugee Detention Centre is not suitable to hold Zaoui.
Quirk said the fact that a security risk certificate had been issued against Zaoui was enough to impact negatively on refugees and asylum seekers at the Mangere Centre. He added that heightened public and media interest in the case would cause security concerns at the centre and neighbouring community.
However under cross examination Mr Quirk conceded that it is “official policy” for the Mangere Centre to be used to detain those deemed at risk of offending, absconding and/or to national security. Again, Zaoui has been deemed by the Department of Corrections to be low risk.
Further during cross examination Corrections psychologist Dr Zuessman said: “It is my professional opinion that it will be to Mr Zaoui’s advantage with regard to his psychological condition and mental health that he be released from custody such as he is currently in.”
Zaoui’s counsel submit that his ongoing detention, consequential deteriorating mental health - complicated by an inability to assert full disclosure rights to the information the SIS holds against him - breaches his rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights and international humanitarian law.
Secondly, a case of Habeas Corpus has been asserted.
The Crown insists the director of the SIS certified that Zaoui’s continued presence in New Zealand constitutes a threat to national security, also that there were reasonable grounds for regarding him as a danger to the security of New Zealand. It says that unless the security risk certificate is found to be improperly issued or the Minister of Immigration decides to no longer rely on the certificate, Zaoui ought to remain imprisoned.
Tomorrow (Friday July 2), further submissions will be heard from Zaoui’s counsel, the Human Rights Commission, and the Crown.