Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Are we China now?

I've just been reading a disturbing Twitter thread from lawyer Felix Geiringer about an apparent abuse of power by NZ Customs. Author Margie Thomson is launching a book tonight in Wellington. The details of the book are embargoed until after launch, but Nicky Hager wrote the forward and will be speaking at the launch. Given this, its a fair bet the book criticises a government agency in some way. So its highly disturbing to read that a person carrying its manuscript was stopped over the weekend by NZ Customs while entering New Zealand, detained and questioned in an effort to learn its title and content:

As Geiringer notes, Customs have some explaining to do. Because stopping critics of the government at the border and harassing them in an effort to learn about their criticism is the sort of bullshit you expect in despotisms like China, not in democratic New Zealand. Its a prima facie abuse of power, and it is difficult to see how it could possibly be a legitimate use of Customs' powers. Section 205 of the Customs and Excise Act allows detention and questioning about dutiable, prohibited, uncustomed, or forfeited goods or debt to the crown, and s208 allows it for public health or law enforcement purposes. But we don't ban books criticising the government here, and publishing something critical of a government agency or having your forward written by a critic of government power is not a criminal offence. So what was the lawful basis for this detention? And how did they know this person was carrying the manuscript so they could target them in this way?

I expect we'll hear more about this when the book is launched tonight. And no doubt there'll be some fascinating excavation of Customs' wrongdoing, and that of whichever agency put them up to this.