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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Enemy propaganda

You can't give the media a statement that might be construed to dare someone to break a window.

Even if it is in protest at trying to stop the biggest most obviously overtly racist, directly anti-Maori, piece of underhanded authoritarian, constitutionally abhorrent, bad faith perversion of a law being rammed through parliament under urgency. Even if it is to draw attention to an undermining of the rule of law by extraordinary legislative action of the government amounting to the single biggest confiscation rip-off in all the miserable and shameful history of Crown abuse. To point out to the media that a lone protest action has occured against an injustice of that magnitude - which we know will be condemned by the United Nations - is sedition. It is the words of the false history stated in the Foreshore and Seabed Bill to effect the confiscation that provoked a broken window - were the government's words not sedition?

I had asbsolutely no idea whatsoever that morning of 18 November 2004 that what I was doing in issuing that statement to the media was sedition. It certainly didn't feel that way and certainly doesn't now. It felt like a solemn and necessary duty, however imperfectly executed or conceived, to explain to people what had happened and what it meant through the media.

That I participated in an action to protest constitutional anarchy and that I tried to avert an injustice is something that I have taken my responsibility for by admitting I was involved as a party to a conspiracy to commit intentional damage. To criminalise the making and distribution of the statement that comes with it is taking it too far because if one person cannot share his thoughts with another person the whole idea of a democracy breaks down. But is it any wonder that the Crown's reaction to the protest of one shameful law thought evil even when it was routinely used in the 19th century that seeks to cut-off the rights of a percieved minority in automatic favour of the Crown is to prosecute it with another shameful law thought evil even when it was routinely used in the 19th century that seeks to cut-off the rights of a percieved minority in automatic favour of the Crown? Confiscation and sedition prosecutions are both the actions of a wartime government.

I disagree with the jury's verdict and will seek to appeal.

I am disappointed with losing one for the whole side. I feel guilty about not offering a more robust defence with all the force and principles that could have gone with it. The jury didn't like "similar action", they liked "civil disobedience". But it could have said things a million times worse than a fairly lame "similar action" - it's not even specific. It's in the last sentence and it's tempered with symbolism and an exhortation to use one's own initiative in a press release headed "Confiscation Day" not "Burn down Parliament" or "Smash the State" or "Cut the tall trees." At the very most it could have been headed "Why you should consider breaking a window" - but even if it was it was only meant for the press - it would then be up to these responsible members of the media to use as they see fit.

12 random community representatives either could not accept or could not understand what you might think are perfectly reasonable, straight forward, simple, explanations about why the threshold for incitement can never be a statement only meant for half a dozen journalists. It was lost on them. I wonder what they think of their verdict now they have heard all the criticism of it? Do they even read?

This was a call to Pakeha consciousness. We wanted to stop the confiscation being a footnote, a summary caption in the history pages of the Pakeha press - because that is sadly exactly what it was even with a nice photo of the installation art that was created overnight at the office of the Minister for Art and Culture. The stories that day that appeared before any story about the confiscation bill in the following day's edition of the NZ Herald:
Outrage as Father walks free
Speaker set to kick out Awatere Huata
Law change likely over toxic soil
This must mean summer's here
Truck crash blame swings to tiredness
Comment: The mayoral revolution is a perfect chance to right old wrong
The day all hope was dashed
Act's new man learned from Red China's mistakes
Rapist faces expulsion from NZ
Man missing for eight years declared dead
Physics test question drops clanger on basics

and then finally on A5:
Bill sparks protests from Pakeha and Maori
Iwi "betrayed" over law


There's a reason why community leaders condemn in extremely harsh language a law that confiscates property rights without any form of redress and constitutional lawyers and many groups oppose the law vehemently and yet when it passes in dubious circumstances it rates hardly a mention in the mainstream media. It's because they's black.

The message is: that's how important Pakeha think your rights are. The government says you are just Abos and us Pakeha don't care. They're supposedly doing it for us anyway, aren't they?... It's probably wrong, but... whatever.

That's about right, isn't it?

The NZ Herald was founded in 1863 by a businessman who split with his partner because he wanted the government to invade the Waikato so him and his mates could make a quick buck out of selling all the stolen land that would be ethnically cleansed and confiscated off the owners courtesy of the British taxpayers and their army. Then the NZ Herald was the Der Stürmer of the time agitating for invasion and theft. Their treatment of Maori as the other and never as part or the "us" and "we" has been consistent up to this very day. So I read the NZ Herald's leader in the Weekend edition with the usual low expectations:

Ill advised use of a tough law

...an unusual inhabitant of the twighlight zone where fringe politics meets amateur media... mindless attention seeking... silly pamphlet...


It wasn't mindless, it was out of absolute desperation for sure but nevertheless considered and symbolic, and it was attention-seeking for an issue that the Herald fell well short of covering, and if it was silly and the issue unimportant then why the prosecution? In attempting to write it off they undermine it's significance. What would Pakeha have done if it was them having their property rights conficscated like that? What would they do? There is not even the slightest hint that perhaps the mainstream press were even asking themselves that question because they know that in this country their Pakeha rights will never be in any doubt. Through the ordeal Maori remained thoroughly calm and impeccably courteous. And that's how you get screwed over. That's how you get every last piece of land taken off you. You can go through the courts - but as soon as you get anywhere near justice it will be snatched away by the Crown. Do you appreciate the hopeless position that Maori are in and have been for so many years? The Crown can hold up the Treaty as a token but will never follow the letter. To help Her Majesty keep the faith and the principles implicit in our founding bond alive, when threatened by the actions of a misguided government, occasionally citizens must risk offending against the law in order to do it. Informing people of the details - after the event especially - can hardly be considered sedition.

The Herald exists in the twighlight zone where mainstream politics meets mass media - that is a far more precarious position than this blog - especially when it comes to understanding that free speech must be used sometimes instead of being wheeled out as an ideal whenever it's convenient to excuse some editorial lapse of judgement or prurient urge to trawl through someone's dirty laundry or gross photos from the coroner. That the Herald's editorial was so self-assured in assuming that sedition would not be used again speaks volumes for their grasp on reality. It means we all have to think twice where once we thought it was our right to impart ideas to one another - that is what is at stake here.

And while we are at it I note that Radio New Zealand could have many discussions of the case but not invite me once to talk to them except at the end of the trial where all Mary Wilson wanted to know was when the appeal was. They also had my lawyer telling them that sedition was basically a good policy to have*! I note that according to the Radio New Zealand staff member's evidence at trial it was they who telephoned the police after receiving a call as to where the statements were left - no other reporters did and everyone I've talked to from the media were greatly surprised that that would even occur to them. Not trusty state radio, eh. Big Brother's little nark?

Anyway, I don't want to have set a bad precedent in failing to secure the correct verdict because other prosecutions will come. If there is any way of getting this in front of the Supreme Court I must pursue it.

*And he advises that I shouldn't talk to the media!? It sounds as though the only one in favour of sedition is my own lawyer. The closing may have had the appropriate Denny Cranesque flavour, but his media relation skills are apalling.

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Still a place for sedition charges

Jun 9, 2006

The lawyer for an Auckland man convicted of sedition says there is still a place for such charges in modern society.

Tim Selwyn was part of a group that carried out an axe attack on Prime Minister Helen Clark's Auckland electorate office in 2004, in a protest arising from the foreshore and seabed debate.

On Thursday, a jury in the Auckland District Court found him guilty of one charge relating to a leaflet he published, calling for people to take similar action.

Selwyn's lawyer, Mark Anthony Edgar, says free speech can transcend into anti-social urging, and there will always be a need to enforce laws against that.

However, a civil libertarian says it is time to review the laws.

Head of the Auckland Council for Civil Liberties, Barry Wilson, says the sedition laws are extremely broad and should be re-examined.

Wilson says the laws are potentially a wide restraint on the public debate of politically controversial matters.

Source: RNZ
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An international freedom of expression group Article 19 has contacted me. They have been monitoring and making submissions on many countries' freedom of expression laws including Australia. And for the record Amnesty International (NZ) has absolutely no interest whatsoever in this case.

4 Comments:

At 12/6/06 8:15 pm, Blogger David Farrar said...

So did you choose your lawyer?

 
At 12/6/06 9:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim, is it wise to publicaly reveal the case of your appeal and defence? Surely the prosectution will enjoying reading your line of attack?

Perhaps you should hold your cards closer to your chest?

Just a thought. Good luck.

 
At 12/6/06 9:32 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

DPF:
After asking around, yes. There were quite a few (how can this be put) theatrical/crazy lawyers available - but I chose one with a reputation for reliability.

Anon:
I don't think I've done that, have I?

 
At 17/6/06 9:28 am, Blogger Jack Yan said...

I was shocked that the charge was even considered for a man expressing his free speech, and have to wonder if the jurors would have found the same had you been Caucasian.

 

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