Friday, February 04, 2005

Sedition by Example II

Despite the title, this is actually the first in a series of historical examples of speech which has led to prosecution under our sedition law (the other sedition by example post beng an attempt to give some examples of modern speech that might fall foul of this law). I will post further examples as they come to hand, and as my currently limited research time permits.

Peter Fraser, demanding an immediate repeal to conscription, Alexandra hall, Wellington, December 10th, 1916:

For the past two years and a half we have been looking at the ruling classes of Europe spreading woe, want and murder over the Continent, and it is time that the working classes of the different nations were rising up in protest against them. [Lloyd George] wants to continue Hell, and to compel the young life of the Dominions into a sweltering Hell. And so far only one country has said - only one part of the world has said, "We think this has gone far enough; we will submit to it no more."

We find that there is a general settling down, and a crystallising of public opinion in favour of peace, or at least peace negotiations, for no country knows what they are fighting for. There is nobody in this country who knows, or in Britain, Germany, Russia or France, But they have come forward and said, "We will send you, whether you want to or not, to fight," and you know not what, no more than the sheep which are branded in the Ngahauranga slaughterhouse.

It rests with the people to say how long they will stand for it. We are told that we were fighting to secure a lasting peace; first it was to relieve Belgium, and the majority of men who went honestly believed that they were going to fight for the rights of the smaller nations and liberty; afterwards, before the incident of Greece came along, before they realised that militarism respected no nationality - if it was necessary to trample underfoot any nation, then any brand of militarism would do. They realise that today. Socialists realise it. Afterwards, we were told that we must fight for a lasting peace. The only peace that is going to last, for millions of men, is the peace they will get in the sleep of death.

In spite of his awful description of war, Lloyd George said that "this war must go on. We do not know how long. The war against Napoleon went on for twenty years. We do not believe this war will go on for long, but we must face it, however long." Are the people going to stand for that sort of thing? I do not believe they will. I believe they are gradually waking up and they will till they sy: "No longer will we be the dupes of crowned heads of Europe or their diplomats."

For saying this, Fraser was arrested and charged with having published seditious words likely to "incite disaffection against the Government of New Zealand and to interfere with the recruiting of His Majesty's forces... discourage the prosecution of the present war to a victorious conclusion; and to encourage opposition to the enforcement and admininistration of the laws... relating to compulsory military service... and to excite disloyalty in respect of the war". He was convicted and jailed for twelve months.

(Source: Tomorrow Comes the Song: A Life of Peter Fraser, Michael Bassett & Michael King, Penguin, 2000.)