Thursday, November 06, 2014

National refuses to say how many people it has exiled without charge or trial

Back in February, the government admitted that it had responded to the "threat" of people travelling to Syria to participate in its civil war by cancelling their passports. The tactic looked legally dubious in the absence of specific evidence linking them to a terrorist act (rather than merely a designated terrorist group), but there was a bigger problem: if passports were cancelled overseas, these people would not be able to return to New Zealand - making the cancellation effectively a sentence of exile without charge or trial. And in September, John Key admitted that this had already happened. Which raises the obvious question: how many people has National exiled without charge or trial in this way?

According to a request on FYI, they won't say:

With regard to your question about passports cancelled under section 8A where the person was believed or suspected to be outside New Zealand at the time, I am withholding this information under S. 6(a) of the Official Information Act, viz, that to do so would "prejudice the security or defence of New Zealand or the international relations of the Government of New Zealand" and S.6(c) of the Official information Act, viz that to do so would "prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences..."
But as a commenter on that FYI request has already pointed out, that's ridiculous. Under section 8A(2)(a) the government is required to notify anyone it strips of a passport in this fashion. The government is also quite public about the policy, and the overall number of passports they have cancelled (nine so far, according to 3News yesterday). So what purpose does the secrecy serve? The only answer is that it protects the government from criticism for exiling people without trial on legally dubious grounds.

This is not something we should tolerate. The right not to be punished without charge or trial goes back to the Magna Carta. It is so fundamental that its not even in the BORA. We cannot let our government behave like a despotic monarch - because if we do, then that despotism may one day be turned upon us.