Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ahmed Zaoui: unacceptable secrecy

Four and a half years after he arrived in New Zealand, two and a half years after he was released on bail, and almost a year after it was originally scheduled to begin, Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui is finally going to get a hearing on the Security Risk Certificate which resulted in his imprisonment. Unfortunately, despite not dealing with classified information (that will be dealt with under a kafkaesque set of procedures which will see Zaoui forbidden to know the evidence or even the allegations against him), that hearing will be held in secret, and the media barred.

This is simply unacceptable. We all know the saying: "justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done". Public hearings are vital to maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the justice system. They allow both expert observers and the wider public to assess whether the presiding officer is giving the accused a fair hearing, and whether the "evidence" presented passes the laugh test. In other words, they're a way of keeping the system honest, and letting us see that the process is not a stich-up. The Inspector-General's hearings are not a criminal trial, but the same principles apply. If they are held in secret, we will have no reason to have confidence in the outcome, and every reason to view them as a modern day Star Chamber.


I think that what's been done to Zaoui is a travesty of justice, and I support his release, and his current legal challenge. Many supposedly liberal politicians and commentators have been disgustingly silent on this issue.

Furthermore, I think that immigration should be open, save for restrictions on those carrying dangerous highly contagious diseases, and those who can be objectively proven to be a security risk - e.g. active members of Al Qaeda.

(Of course, such open immigration is mutually incompatible with a compulsorily-funded welfare state, but that's another issue, and just another reason to oppose the welfare state).

Back on topic, I can envisage a situation where objective evidence is available that would preclude immigration of an individual, but where the publication of that evidence would in itself be a security risk.

For example, imagine a situation where someone arrives as an immigrant, and the SIS know he's an Al Qaeda trainer courtesy spy photos of a training base, and wiretaps. However, they can't release that information to the public, because it would compromise the secrecy of their work (let's say, in this example, that they have a mole in the cell that's feeding them this information).

Should they disregard the information, and let him in? He is objectively a threat and should be denied entrance, but that evidence cannot be produced in an open court.

Should they not let him in, refusing to cite reasons? Obviously such lack of transparency in the legal process is a bad idea, as I/S rightly points out.

Should they let him in, but keep him under covert surveillance? Then, you have an intelligence agency spying on citizens of your own country. Again, not good (and in theory illegal in places like the USA, for all the good that does).

If you were to ordain a legal process for obtaining a warrant for the process of spying on citizens, you'd be right back in the situation of choosing between exposing classified information in a public court, or having secret courts.

This isn't an easy issue to resolve.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/14/2007 02:24:00 PM

Thanks Adolf, for your totally unconstructive comments. Never mind that the Algerian regime issued a death warrant against Ahmed after overturning the elections in which he was democratically elected. If the same happened to me in NZ I too would be keeping well away until I was sure it was safe.

Ahmed has not received a cent personally and is living on the charity of friends and the Dominican Friars. Most of the money spent on the case can be attributed to Crown Law who have drawn the case out further than necessary by appealing court decisions which they lost.

And he has actually been contributing to NZ society (unpaid because he is not allowed to work) by lecturing at universities and to various church groups about building links between different religions - something that he has expertise in given that he was a university lecturer on comparative religion in Algeria. Some would say that he is exactly the type of person that we need in NZ right now.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/20/2007 07:11:00 AM