Saturday, December 11, 2004

"Security risk"

Criticism of Ahmed Zaoui's release on bail has centered around the danger he poses to New Zealand, with NZ First warning hysterically that we have welcomed an "international terrorist" and Tony Ryall expressing concern that Zaoui is "free to roam the streets". The problem with both these views is that the government does not regard Zaoui as a threat to national security:

The certificate issued by the Security Intelligence Service alleges that the Algerian refugee is a threat to New Zealand's national security, but in the Supreme Court the Crown said he was not.

The Solicitor-General, Terence Arnold, QC, was quizzed at length by Dame Sian Elias and other judges about what the risks were.

Mr Arnold indicated that the main risks were his communicating and associating with others - including the "issuing of communiques" and "the function of leadership".


Justice Peter Blanchard put it to him that there was no suggestion violence might occur in New Zealand as a result of any activities Mr Zaoui might be involved in.

Mr Arnold replied after a long pause: "I think that's fair, Your Honour."

The third sentence is the key. It was clear from the summary of allegations released by the SIS that they saw the main risk as damage to New Zealand's reputation - that other people might not like it if we let him stay, either because they would view our insistence on actual evidence rather than mere suspicion as "not pulling our weight" in the war on terror, or because Zaoui resuming his peaceful advocacy for democracy in Algeria would adversely affect relations with some nations. Winston Peters and Tony Ryall clearly think that these issues are worth imprisoning someone over. I do not.

Our entire justice system is based on the idea that the crown must justify imprisonment. That is why we have laws and trials and court proceedings in the first place - to ensure that the crown proves that the curtailment of someone's liberty is necessary. The Supreme Court's decision that Zaoui was eligible for bail was a clear call for the government to put up or shut up - to present some evidence justifying Zaoui's continued detention, or allow his release. The government chose to present no evidence - and in fact admitted in the material quoted above that they had none. While they could have secret evidence which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt Zaoui's involvement in terrorist activity, given the laughable nature of the "evidence" released so far, we simply cannot take it on faith. The government must prove its case against Zaoui in front of a fair and independent court, or allow him to stay.