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The Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews Golriz Ghahraman

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews Golriz Ghahraman

The prospect of ISIS fighters returning home to New Zealand is becoming more likely by the day.

New Zealand has been slow to prepare compared to other countries like the UK and Australia, but finally, this week, Justice Minister Andrew Little released the Terrorism Suppression Bill.

Green MP and human rights lawyer Golriz Ghahraman is unsatisfied with the proposed law.

Simon Shepherd began by asking her why she is not supporting this bill?

Golriz Ghahraman: Well, we’ve had yesterday an arrest warrant issued for Mark Taylor already, so we say that New Zealand’s terror laws are already fit for purpose to catch people like a returning fighter like Mark Taylor. But more than that, the proposed law scares us, as it expands New Zealand’s definition of terror to include convictions anywhere in the world or deportation for terror anywhere in the world, and we know that in much of the world, that could include environmental activists, feminists.

OK. So you’re saying that the definition of terrorism around the world is different, and it may capture people who aren’t really terrorist fighters?

Absolutely, and we know that’s happened in New Zealand. I mean, I remember Ahmed Zaoui being captured under previous national security legislation, and he was just an opposition politician in Algeria.

But don’t we already have a definition of terrorism that we apply to our own in the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002?


So we already have that. We don’t have to take other people’s definitions.

Absolutely, and that’s exactly the Green Party’s position. So, we have a tight definition of terror. It includes extremism, violence, and it explicitly excludes activism and things like that. So why not apply that?

Yeah, but this particular piece of legislation – are you saying that it broadens that, or doesn’t it just rely on what’s already in law?

No. It introduces- In particular provisions, it introduces the definition of a person with a conviction for terror elsewhere in the world, or a person who’s been deported for terrorism activities elsewhere in the world, which we say risks catching exactly the people we don’t want.

But there is a failsafe here, and this is the police who have to go to the court to apply for a control order for this person that’s coming back, and so it’s going through various safeguards, isn’t it?

Well, why change the definition then? I mean, it still risks catching extra people, and in fact, we have to remember that something like this would go through a special process in any case, and may rely on secret, classified information, as in the Zaoui case, because national security interests would likely be triggered.

OK. Are you not being naïve in that we need these kinds of laws? Because we are seeing the world’s situation change rapidly.

Oh, we absolutely need to keep New Zealand safe from terrorism. We say that our laws do that, and that’s exemplified by the arrest warrant for Mark Taylor that was issued by the High Court yesterday. If we’re going to bolster our ability to keep New Zealand safe, there’s no need to expand our definition to include that which is being applied, say, in Russia against the Rainbow community, or Iran, where I’m from, against feminists. We don’t need that, because those people aren’t making us unsafe.

Yeah, but under our existing definition and our treatment of those kinds of people that you’re talking about, it would be reviewed when it gets here, so we don’t have to take another country’s definition of terrorism.

But that’s what’s in this bill. It specifically includes people with convictions anywhere in the world for terrorism offending, and that is as defined by that other country.

You say it’s harsh, but other countries have already introduced this kind of thing; these kinds of laws. There’s temporary exclusion orders that Australia and the UK have, and they have absorbed fighters or people who have said that they’ve been fighting for, say, ISIS, back into communities, and there’s been no problems through their laws. So-

Well, our specific concern isn’t with the fact that the law would catch terrorists. Our concern is that it would catch people who wouldn’t be defined as terrorists in New Zealand law.

You’ve called it dog-whistle law-making. Why?

Well, that- Because we see our laws as being fit for purpose, because we know that someone like Mark Taylor would be immediately arrested. We know that he could be monitored. He could even be held. We’ve got the Bail Act. So, you know, to introduce more far-reaching laws to kind of talk about terrorism as if it’s this, you know, this new, massive concern reminds me of the kind of George Bush-era War on Terror rhetoric that we know didn’t keep anyone safe, we know resulted in rights being eroded and surveillance going up exponentially, and groups being targeted, and we know our own security agencies aren’t free from prejudice. So, if we’re going to introduce laws, let’s make sure that people’s human rights are protected, and that the definition is actually fit for what we’re trying to catch, which is terrorists.

So, dog-whistle law-making – it’s appealing to who? What are you accusing Labour of doing there?

Well, I’m not accusing anyone in particular of doing that. I think we need to guard against falling into an international trend of sort of this hysterics around terrorism, where we go beyond what is required by the rule of law.

But when you look at the proposed legislation, it’s talking about bringing people in and helping them rehabilitate and, you know, it’s not just preventative detention where they’re stuck in a room, no internet, no bank account. There are things being wrapped around.

Absolutely, and we don’t have a problem with that. That’s fine. It’s the expansion where we kind of are suddenly like, “If you’ve been anywhere in the world, if you’ve got these convictions,” and we know that they’ve actually caught so many people. The last time we all went down the route of “This is a clash between civilisations, and we need to take away any kind of right that there is in order to keep ourselves safe,” we know that that didn’t keep anyone safe, and that it, in fact, weakened our legal system.

This is an imminent threat, as it were, because of what’s happening in the Middle East, but also, this can capture other extremism around the world – say, in the Ukraine or elsewhere. So this isn’t a hysterical response, is it?

Well, expanding the definition of terror is, in our mind, unnecessary, and will result in unfairness and an erosion of people’s rights. New Zealand will perpetuate the kind of persecution that people like activists suffer in other places in the world, where activism is illegal.

By taking this position, are you not risking making the law even harsher from a political sense? I mean, if the Greens don’t back this, Labour’s going to have to go to National, and National is saying, “Let’s make it tougher. Let’s make it, instead of 18-year-olds, let’s make it 14-year-olds. Let’s make these control orders longer – not just two years, but longer than that.” So you’re playing a risky game here.

The National Party proposals are a huge knee-jerk reaction, and in part kind of show a lack of understanding of the criminal law, because they’ve included things that are already in the law. We’re trying to make the law better. We want to catch terrorists as defined in New Zealand law. We want to catch extremists, people that are actually a threat to international peace and security and New Zealand’s peace and security. We don’t want to give away New Zealand’s excellent standards of human rights and the rule of law in doing that. We don’t think that will keep New Zealand safe, and we are working with the minister to make this law better.

OK. Will you- Have you given up on actually negotiating these changes?

No. Not at all.

OK. So you’re going back to Andrew Little and saying that this new definition that you’re talking about, this new catch-all, should be gone?

Yeah, absolutely.

And the response? He seems pretty hard-nosed about this.

No, we’re still talking with the minister. I have an excellent relationship with the minister, and we talk regularly, so it’s- you know, we want due process standards in here. We want people to be able to challenge these orders. We want the definition to be strictly based on what New Zealand considers to be terrorism, and then we would support it.

Do you think this is all coming a bit late? I mean, should this have all been started a lot earlier? We’ve known about, say, the bumbling Jihadi for years, and Andrew Little says there’s two or three others out there. Should this have been started earlier?

I’m not worried for New Zealand. I know that we have criminalised terrorism, and I know that there’s an arrest warrant lying in wait for Mark Taylor, and will be lying in wait for any others that come through who have helped ISIS.

Do you know that? Do you know that there are others that are coming through?

Well, the minister has indicated that there may be others, and I’m sure we will know ahead of time, and we can arrest people, and, you know, this has only taken a day to get that arrest warrant.

The actual legislation in the proposed bill says itself that this was only envisaged being applied one or two times a year. It’s a very small percentage. So, therefore, is that just really honing in on what we would consider an extremist threat?

That’s what it should do, but unfortunately, as the bill is drafted currently, it expands our definition to include, essentially, political prisoners – people like us, people who want to stand up for those freedoms.

And you just mentioned that you think we would know ahead of time of people coming back. How would we definitely know ahead of time if we-

Well, if we’re talking about this exact class of person that the bill is intended for, and they are suspected of terror, and they have gone to join ISIS, I mean, getting them on a flight is pretty difficult. So we’ll definitely know when Mark Taylor is coming back.

So you’re absolutely sure that New Zealanders are going to feel safe, that they are being protected from returning extremist fighters, even though you’re opposing this legislation?

Well, like any crime, we apply it as soon as we know someone is suspected of a crime. We arrest them, we then can surveil them, and we can apply things like ankle bracelets, which this law foresees. That’s within our criminal law already. So if we don’t think our criminal law is fit for purpose, then it’s not fit for purpose for anyone, because terror is a crime. It’s not something that we need to kind of rile up extra hysteria about, and I don’t think that’s helpful.

Golriz Ghahraman, thank you very much for your time.

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