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Lisa Owen interviews Metiria Turei and Anjum Rahman

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Metiria Turei and Anjum Rahman

Youtube clips from the show are available here.

Greens co-leader says “our Prime Minister lied to the country” about jihadi brides and in doing so inspired fear of the Muslim community

Greens reveal confirmation from the Prime Minister’s office that John Key and Chris Finlayson knew six months before December 2015 select committee that New Zealand “jihadi brides” were not leaving from New Zealand

Says she has reports of the SIS going to people’s homes, telling them they are being watched

SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge also failed to correct the misleading impression, but may have been “blindsided” and thrown “under the bus” by the PM

Muslim leader said the allegations had a “negative” impact on the community, including Muslim youth, and she wants more engagement from government

Rahman: “I think it’s absolutely right that he [the Prime Minister] has a responsibility to protect the whole of New Zealand’s community, and that includes the Muslim community in New Zealand”.

Lisa Owen: This morning, development on the Jihadi bride story. You’ll remember revelations last year SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge and Prime Minister John Key about New Zealand women heading Iraq and Syria as brides for Islamic State fighters.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei, good morning. You’ve got new information about this. So, what has come to light?

Metiria Turei: So, we have found out – the Green Party has found out – that John Key knew in May of last year that no New Zealand women had left New Zealand to go to Iraq and Syria. He had been told that one New Zealand woman from elsewhere – from Australia – had gone, but there was no information about why she had gone, and certainly, it was very clear that this woman had not left from New Zealand. He and Chris Finlayson both knew that as a fact, and yet, at the select committee later on in the year in November, he made it seem to the whole country that there were New Zealand women leaving New Zealand radicalised to become the wives of Islamic fighters. It was completely untrue, and he knew it in November when he was at that select committee.

So, just to be clear, you’re saying when he spoke at the select committee and when he gave interviews after the select committee, he’d known for six months that none of the so-called Jihadi brides had actually left from this country?

Turei: Well, that’s right. And he allowed New Zealand to think that there increasing numbers of women in New Zealand being radicalised in New Zealand and leaving to marry Islamic fighters. He had no information on which to make that assumption. And that is lying by omission. That is a prime minister who is scaremongering and driving up fear and suspicion about what is actually a very vulnerable group of New Zealanders in the current circumstances.

So you are saying our prime minister lied?

Turei: Yes, our prime minister lied to the country. He could have clarified at the select committee that these were- they may have been New Zealand women, but they were leaving from Australia; he could have clarified immediately after the select committee when he was asked about it by the media. And he could have clarified it in all the time between November and March this year when he was finally found out that these women weren’t leaving from New Zealand; there is not that radicalisation happening here.

But the thing is nothing the Prime Minister said was untrue. So tell me why he’s wrong.

Turei: This is where you get to lying by omission. He is the prime minister. He has a responsibility to make sure New Zealanders have accurate information about what is an incredibly serious issue – the issues of terrorism, of Islamic State, the fear of radicalisation. We see the bombings and things on the news. People are really concerned about this stuff, and rightly so. So he has a responsibility to make sure that we have accurate and transparent information, and he deliberately kept information from New Zealanders in order to drive up fear and suspicion amongst us, amongst our own communities about each other.

We did ask the Prime Minister about this a couple of weeks ago on the show when it was revealed that none of these women had left New Zealand, despite the impression that was given at the time. Let’s have a listen to what he said.

John Key: There’s nothing to correct. This is the point. The point is not about where they leave from. The point is – are they New Zealanders? If they are New Zealanders, under the New Zealand intelligence law, the only salient point is – are they New Zealanders?

So, nothing to correct, he says. Your response?

Turei: He’s absolutely wrong. He allowed New Zealanders to think there were Muslim women in New Zealand being radicalised and leaving here to marry Islamic fighters. He- That was wrong; that information is completely wrong. He should have been clear about that with us.

But we don’t know where they were radicalised, though.

Turei: We don’t know if they were, and we don’t know- Even Rebecca Kitteridge, head of the SIS, said she doesn’t- they don’t know why the women from Australia were leaving to go to Iraq and Syria. We do know that there are people who may be going to visit their families, for example, and then come home. But there is no evidence, he had no evidence, that they were radicalised or going to marry Islamic fighters.

But we know that they are New Zealand women.

Turei: They are women who hold a New Zealand passport. As far as we know, they are domiciled in Australia. We don’t know how long they’ve been living in Australia. It could be for years and years. John Key allowed New Zealanders to think there was-

Yes, but it could also be for five minutes, or it could just be in transit heading off. Do we not have reason to be concerned, though, that these are women, New Zealand passports, heading off to areas where there is this conflict going on?

Turei: We need to know more information. This is the problem. This is what John Key’s statement does – he creates more questions and more fear and concern, and then will not provide accurate information to address those. This is one of the reasons why that select committee, that committee that John Key was on, needs a much broader representation from parliamentarians like the Greens, like other political parties, so we can question and get this information out from ministers and from the SIS, because everybody deserves to know more and to have accurate information; John Key did not provide it.

Well, whose responsibility was it to correct the misinformation, though? Because you said that Mr Finlayson knew, and of course Rebecca Kitteridge knew. So who’s to blame? Should Rebecca Kitteridge have spoken up?

Turei: She may well have been blindsided at that Select Committee, and John Key certainly threw her under a bus. When he told you, actually, that she was the first person to raise Jihadi brides, he lied about that as well. But John Key knew, Rebecca Kitteridge knew, and Chris Finlayson all knew that these women were not leaving from New Zealand, and at any time they could have told us, and they did not. We had to go and—Radio New Zealand had to go and find that information, the Greens have been going out to find information – accurate information – for New Zealanders.

But aren’t the spy agencies being more open than ever with us now?

Turei: Well, no, actually, not. They’re not. I have reports of SIS agents going to people’s homes and telling them that they are being watched, frightening people. I’m investigating that now because I think that’s very serious. Communities—All our communities in New Zealand need to feel safe – safe because we are getting accurate information, safe because the agencies are doing a proper job, safe because there’s a place to go if we have concerns. At the moment, John Key is driving up fear and suspicion, and that makes it unsafe for everyone.

All right. Let’s bring in Anjum Rahman, who’s from the Islamic Women’s Council. Good morning to you.

Anjum Rahman: Hi.

At the time that this story broke, what impact did it have on the Muslim community?

Rahman: Well, it put a spotlight on the community, and a negative spotlight. The way that this was reported – media reports – certainly I’ve seen one article from Radio New Zealand that specifically said ‘Minister Finlayson has said women leaving from New Zealand’. So that was that assumption in the public arena, which immediately placed suspicion on the women in our community and our community in general. It put the spotlight on our community, how this plays out in terms of talkback radio, social media as well as real –life experiences for kids at school, for women, you know, going out in public. It causes damage; it really does.

So what do you make of this new information that the Prime Minister knew six months prior to making these statements, that none of these women have left from New Zealand?

Rahman: I think it’s upsetting to not have had that information in the public sphere because we work really hard with our community. Our organisation has a lot of events, and we put effort, especially into our young people, to build up this Kiwi-Muslim identity. And we had a big national youth camp for young Muslim women in December last year, and we’re putting a lot of effort into this, and we need that effort to be recognised; we need some engagement to be happening. We’re as concerned about security as anybody else. We’re also New Zealand citizens, and our Prime Minister is also responsible for us and our safety.

Why do you think he didn’t correct that misperception?

Rahman: I can’t read what was in the Prime Minister’s mind. All I can say is that we would really like him to recognise the impact that this has on us and to be careful that with the way that he’s presenting information, and that should any such thing happen in the future, that they provide the full, correct information and engage with the community beforehand to ensure that we have some level of protection. I mean, in Australia, just three days ago, three Muslim women were attacked by a gang, had their hijabs ripped off, were punched, physically beaten. And that’s very close to here. And for us, that’s a real fear. I mean, at this youth camp, we ensured that there were three police officers present because we don’t feel safe.

So was it irresponsible for the Prime Minister not to correct that information?

Rahman: I think that he should have corrected it, yes.

So what do you want from him now? Do you want an apology?

Rahman: I think we want to work with the Government. I think we’re looking at the bigger picture. I mean, this is a topic of the day, but we want to look at the bigger picture. We want to work towards security for all New Zealanders as well as security for our community, our women, our children. So we need proper engagement on that. We’d like to work with the agencies involved as well. We’d like them to get to know us, and we know that Ms Kitteridge hasn’t met with our organisation at all. We got no briefings; we’ve had no information. And that makes it really difficult to deal with if she’s like this.

Metiria Turei has raised the fact that she’s heard the SIS is out knocking on doors. Do you know anything about that? Has this come as a surprise to you?

Rahman: I know that the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations was due to meet with her during this past week. That was at his request, and it took about two to three months to get that meeting scheduled. I’m not aware of what you’ve just said.

So you believe that there was a meeting this week between Rebecca Kitteridge and the president?

Rahman: I understand so, but she certainly hasn’t—or no one from the organisation has contacted our organisation. I spoke to him two weeks ago when this news first came out, and he said, ‘Oh, got a meeting scheduled.’

Right. What about the Prime Minister? Because, you see, when we spoke to him on The Nation, he said he’d met with Muslim leaders, he thought, and he’d probably been to a mosque in the last year, he thought, as well. So has he spoken to you in the last year?

Rahman: He hasn’t spoken with anyone from our organisation. Again, also, the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations was elected as a new president around May or June last year and has never spoken to Mr Key. If he has spoken to community leaders, I’m not sure who he has spoken to, whether they were localised in Auckland, but it doesn’t appear to be the national leadership. But we haven’t had any engagement either.

Metiria Turei, what do you think about that? Should the Prime Minister meet with Muslim community groups?

Turei: I think it’s absolutely right that he has a responsibility to protect the whole of New Zealand’s community, and that includes the Muslim community in New Zealand. And therefore he needs to engage. He is making statements and deliberately creating threats and suspicion about people with whom he’s not talking to. And I think that’s just totally inappropriate.

Thank you both for joining me this morning.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz


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