Wednesday, 7 June 2006

Sedition trial

A round up below of the various reports on Tim Selwyn's sedition trial, currently under way in Auckland's District Court and on which I sat in briefly this afternoon.

Selwyn was charged with the crime of sedition after being involved in an early morning axe attack on the window of Helen Clark's electorate office, unoccupied at the time, in order to raise awareness of the theft of property rights that was the Foreshore and Seabed Act. In pamphlets distributed at the time, the attackers called for others to commit their own acts of civil disobedience in protest at the Act's introduction.

The axe attack was apparently intended to gain attention for Selwyn's opposition to the Act, which on the face of it was a poorly planned, perhaps hot-headed, but hardly (you would have thought) seditious -- unless, that is, the definition for sedition is a pretty loose one. Turns out that's exactly the case, as No Right Turn explains here:
The definition is so broad as to criminalise virtually any criticism of the government. And historically, that is exactly how the law of sedition has been used in this country: as a tool of persecution for those whose political opinions were deemed "non-mainstream."
Frankly, if Selwyn is convicted of sedition, then we all could be. As Libertarianz leader Bernard Darnton said on Tuesday:

Tim Selwyn's prosecution for sedition once again highlights this government's contempt for freedom of expression. Selwyn's act of vandalism has already been dealt with under a separate charge, to which he's pleaded guilty. The sedition charge is simply an attempt to punish criticism of the government.

The law against sedition is a medieval hangover that should be removed from our law books immediately. Sedition law is an assault on free speech – it only criminalises political expression.

Speech that really incites violence can be dealt with under existing laws against public disorder, as pointed out by Sir Geoffrey Palmer during a review of Crimes Act Reform: 'Sedition should not be a crime in a democratic society committed to free speech. Libelling the government must be permitted in a free society.'

Using this archaic law to try and silence its critics is typical of both this government's high-handedness and its disrespect for freedom of expression.

The trial started Tuesday, and will likely finish tomorrow.

LINKS: Checkpoint, Wednesday summary (audio)
NZ Herald, Wednesday report: Axe attack on PM's office 'symbolic gesture', court told
Dominion, Wednesday report: Protestor says axe attack was 'symboloc gesture'

Checkpoint, Tuesday summary (audio)
NZ Herald, Tuesday report: Sedition trial starts into axe attack on PM's office
Dominion, Tuesday report: Axe attacker to take stand in sedition attack

Background to the trial comes from No Right Turn, whose post here summarises the pre-trial reports, some previous sedition trials and the reactions from the country's politicians -- to date there has been only, from Libertarianz -- and here at Scoop he summarises the case.

Blogger News Network have their own summary here. Selwyn's own blog has what is decribed as Context, but might perhaps be better understood as an example of how little persuasive power any pamphlet of Selwyn's might have.

TAGS: Politics-NZ, Law, Free Speech

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