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Zaoui Case: Amnesty Says Secret Hearings Unjust

Zaoui Case: Amnesty Int. Says Secret Hearings Unjust

By Joseph Barratt

Like a scene from Guantanamo bay, protesters gagged and blindfolded marked the beginning of the Inspector General's hearing into the Ahmed Zaoui case - Amnesty International staged a protest for what it says is an unfair inquiry.

A crowd of about 25 people gathered and in silence gave support to Mr Zaoui as he arrived to attend the hearing. The protest included a woman, dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit, locked in a cage representing the imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

Three others stood beside the cage, one blind folded, one wearing earmuffs and the other a gag over her mouth holding placards showing the three factors that Amnesty sees as unfair in the hearings including: that it is a secret hearing using secret sources and secret evidence.

Ahmed Zaoui and legal counsel Richard McDonald arrive at the hearing, Auckland Employment Court, Lorne St.

Ahmed Zaoui's legal counsel Deborah Manning arrives at the Inspector General's hearing, Auckland Employment Court, Lorne St.

A banner was up saying “Ahmed Zaoui - freedom or fair trial”. Amnesty was also supported by members of the Human Rights Foundation and there was also a contingent from the Quakers church who were calling for justice.

Amnesty International's refugee coordinator Margaret Taylor said: "The lack of transparency in the trial process favours the prosecution over the defence, and does not inspire confidence in a fair outcome.”

She said: "After waiting more than four years for a trial, fairness and transparency is the least that Ahmed Zaoui should expect."

The hearing is unprecedented in New Zealand, it will see the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security review whether the SIS were correct in issuing a security risk assessment against Ahmed Zaoui.

Mr Zaoui's lawyer, Deborah Manning, said that Mr Zaoui is relieved that the hearing has begun but that he is frustrated by the secrecy surrounding the case. The frustration is heightened due to Mr Zaoui being unable to sight the classified information that the SIS rests its case upon.

"It is very difficult … to prepare for any hearing when information is secret so I don't think anyone's under any illusion that this is a normal fair hearing because it is based on secrecy." said Mrs Manning.

The media are barred from attending the hearing, as are observers such as Amnesty International.

There will possibly be three hearings, the first two attended by Mr Zaoui and his legal council. The third hearings date is not confirmed yet and is closed which means that Mr Zaoui will not be able to attend it and will be represented by a Special Advocate appointed by the Inspector General.

The special advocate, since viewing classified information in May, is not allowed to come into communication with Mr Zaoui or his legal council – the reason given is in order to protect the SIS' classified information.

Amnesty International's Margaret Taylor said the hearings need to be conducted on camera. She said that would give others the ability to review the decision.

"The rationale for a public hearing is to ensure that justice is not only done but is seen to be done. Ahmed Zaoui has requested a public hearing,” said Mrs Taylor.

“By failing to give Mr Zaoui the public hearing, the government will arouse understandable suspicion about the integrity of its evidence and its processes," Margaret Taylor said.

Amnesty International will be holding silent protests every Monday and Friday for the duration of the 4 week hearings.

Ahmed Zaoui came to New Zealand in December 2002, was imprisoned for over 2 years - 10 months of which was in solitary confinement. He is currently on bail with strict conditions, and resides at the Dominican Priory in Auckland.


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