New Zealand's very own political prisoner
- David Small
Since this was written, Ahmed Zaoui has been released on bail, albeit with strict conditions as to where he can live, a nightly curfew and twice weekly reporting to the Police. The fact that he is now "free" in no way invalidates the title of this article. One battle getting him out of prison may have been won; the war still has a long way to go.
This is the first time that Watchdog has covered the Zaoui case. We have been content to leave it to our sister publication, Peace Researcher, and I refer you to David Smalls two excellent articles in issues 29, June 2004, and 28, December 2003. They can be read online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr29-101.html and http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr28-92.html.
But its time that Watchdog addressed the issue. CAFCA has a long history of campaigning against the buffoonish NZ Security Intelligence Service (SIS). Most recently we were among the organisations to sign an open letter to the Prime Minister (who is always the Minister in Charge of the SIS) calling for a truly independent inquiry into the Sunday Star-Times claims that the SIS has been systematically spying on the Maori Party and Maori activists in general. We have no faith that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, assigned the job by the PM, can carry out such an independent inquiry.
This issue also includes a review of a book about the Zaoui case. For the two years that Zaoui was locked up, the Government regarded him as a prisoner of war, the war in question being the "War on Terror", of which little old New Zealand is a part, faithfully following the US. In fact, he was, and remains, New Zealands bona fide political prisoner..
Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian Islamic politician, was held in custody for slightly more than two years since he was arrested upon arrival, in Auckland, in December 2002. He has never been charged or tried for any offence. He arrived on false papers, and claimed refugee status, which he has been granted by the appropriate official body. The Government chose to override that decision, citing the woebegotten SIS as its preferred authority on the case. Zaoui is wanted by Algeria (site of a particularly murderous civil war, one where the West now backs the regime because it is fighting Islamic fundamentalists). For most of the 1990s Zaoui was shunted from exile to exile, in Europe and Africa. The Intelligence agencies of various European countries, principally France, plus the Algerians and NZs more usual Intelligence allies, all contributed to Zaoui remaining in prison in Auckland, and, although now out on bail, facing imminent deportation (with the very real prospect of death, should he be returned to Algeria, which has sentenced him to death in absentia).
Zaouis plight has become a national cause celebre, and there is any number of appalling aspects to it (such as the racist and shoddy Immigration laws and procedures exposed for all to see). Watchdog has a longstanding interest in the SIS and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, so we decided to concentrate on that aspect.
David Small is well known to Watchdog readers because of his involvement in the case of Aziz Choudry (it was David who caught the SIS agents breaking into Azizs Christchurch home, in 1996). See Watchdog 92, December 1999, "Aziz Choudry Wins Case Against SIS: Out Of Court Settlement; Damages; Government Apology", Murray Horton. It can be read online at http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/92/3aziz.htm.
David later won his own civil court case arising out of that (see Watchdog 94, August 2000, "David Defeats Goliath: David Small Wins $20,000 From Police In Second Court Case To Result From 1996 SIS Break-In", Murray Horton. This can be read online at http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/94/7david.htm. David has become heavily involved in the campaign to free Ahmed Zaoui.
We consider it appalling that Zaoui was imprisoned, nearly half of it in solitary confinement and in maximum security, without charge or trial, and faces deportation and possible death, because of the cackhanded malice of New Zealand "Intelligence" (a contradiction in terms if there was ever one), and the gutlessness of a Government whose most senior Ministers put a higher premium on sucking up to our masters in the "War On Terror" and on a relationship with the Intelligence agencies from the likes of France (our "ally," which, in 1985, sent its own Intelligence agents to bomb the "Rainbow Warrior" in Auckland Harbour, killing a man in the process) than on the life and liberty of a Third World refugee. Shame on the lot of you. Ed.
Prospects Of A Positive Outcome
As the saga of the Algerian refugee, Ahmed Zaoui, passed its second anniversary, the prospects of a positive outcome have never looked brighter. Mr Zaouis support base is growing steadily and his persecutors, notably the SIS and the leadership of the Labour Government, are looking increasingly isolated. With more prominent people backing the Free Zaoui campaign, a critical book*, growing scepticism of the SIS, and some significant legal victories, the Government must be considering some face-saving exit from the corner into which it has painted itself. * See Jeremy Agars review of "I Almost Forgot About The Moon", elsewhere in this issue. Ed.
In 1981, the National government made out that it would be some travesty of democracy to deny visas to visiting South African rugby players, even though decisions about visa applications have always been the prerogative of governments. Similarly, the Minister of Immigration, Paul Swain (like his ill-fated predecessor, Lianne Dalziel) has steadfastly refused to exercise his discretion to free Mr Zaoui and welcome him into New Zealand as a refugee. It is as though this would undermine some sacrosanct process; the one that has dragged on for more than two years without sign of an imminent conclusion.
The legal process has become very complex, with overlapping cases at various stages of appeal regarding bail applications, rights of media access to interview Mr Zaoui, and judicial reviews over bias and other matters relating Mr Zaouis appeal against the Security Risk Certificate that has been issued against him (this is the first such Certificate to have been issued, one of many legal and political precedents in the Zaoui case. Since this was written, Zaoui has won his bail case, and TVNZ won the right to hold the first media interview with him, done while he was still in prison and broadcast hours before he was released, in December 2004. Ed.).
What all these cases have in common is that, far from being a neutral advocate of due process, the Government has been seeking to interpret every matter at issue in the way that would be most prejudicial to the interests of Mr Zaoui. The way this tension has played itself out in the courts is that most of the Crown arguments have been on issues of jurisdiction. Essentially, the Crown has been arguing that the matters at issue, down to and including a bail application, are beyond the powers of the courts to rule on. Fortunately, the courts, particularly the higher courts, have been unconvinced by these arguments. Ironically, in the same week that the Prime Minister told the Sunday Star-Times to "put up or shut up" over allegations of SIS agents spying on Maori groups, the Supreme Court effectively said the same thing to the Government over its reasons for denying bail to Mr Zaoui.
Court Rules That Zaouis Human Rights Must Be Taken Into Account
Of more significance for the ultimate success of the campaign, however, was the Court of Appeal judgment on whether human rights issues should be taken into account in the review of Mr Zaouis security risk certificate. This judgment, which was delivered more than four months after the May 2004 hearing, was a resounding defeat for the Crown. In effect, the Government was told that it cannot sign up to international covenants on human rights and the treatment of refugees and then simply ignore them in its own policies and practices.
In a strongly worded judgment, the Court said that "it would not be acceptable to allow the Security Risk Certificate process to be used as a back door method of challenging the Refugee Status Appeals Authority grant of refugee status to Mr Zaoui". Furthermore, it set a very high threshold for the expulsion of a refugee in Mr Zaouis position. The test will only be met, according to the Court of Appeal:
This goes well beyond the vague and generalised allusions to national security that have thus far been the feature of SIS statements about Mr Zaoui. The Free Zaoui campaign has got a significant boost with the bail decision and media exposure Mr Zaoui is now getting. However, the legal campaign needs to continue to be complemented by a political campaign. In particular, Labour MPs need to feel the pressure of the tide of public opinion surging against them. They need to be reminded that in ten years time, nobody will want to be associated with the reprehensible treatment of the man who will have become a valued member of our society.
to Watchdog 107 Index