Thursday, 8 June 2006

Sedition verdict gives new meaning to 'Helengrad'

Another nail in Liberty's great coffin: A man has been charged and convicted of, wait for it, sedition. TV3 report here (video). Radio report here (audio)

Not in the nineteenth century, but today. Not in time of war or great conflict, but in the "benign strategic environment" that is the South Pacific. Not in a third-world banana republic -- not in a Kafka-esque, Eastern European Soviet hell-hole -- not even in Mugabe's Zimbabwe -- but here, today, in Auckland's District Court. Convicted of sedition for an act of vandalism in Sandringham Rd eighteen months ago that was accompanied by five -- count them, five -- five leaflets scattered down Ponsonby Rd early one morning that tried to explain the vandalism, and invited NZers to "commit their own acts of Civil Disobedience" in opposition to the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

It's not exactly Michael Collins or Lord Haw Haw, is it? It's not even John Minto or Mike Smith.

But for those actions, a jury this afternoon found one Tim Selwyn guilty of an intention to "bring into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against" the Queen or the government and to incite "violence, disorder, and lawlessness." In other words for vandalising the PM's electorate office, and then boasting about it, Mr Selwyn now faces two years in prison. Not for simple vandalism, for which he's already been properly convicted. But for sedition.

Now, note too that this charge has not been brought under the Prime-Ministership of William Massey, nor under that of Robert Muldoon -- nor even under the wartime Prime-Ministership of Peter Fraser -- but in peacetime under the leadership of Helen Elizabeth Clark, who herself just over twenty-five years ago was engaged in her own acts of vandalism and civil disobedience up and down Sandringham Rd and various other streets around the Eden Park of 1981 that was then 'occupied' by a Springbok team. The same Helen Clark who then appeared to value open and vigorous debate -- even with flour bombs, broken glass and lengths of four by two. The same Helen Clark who herself was once said to value the civil disobedience of Henry David Thoreau, of Martin Luther King, of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

How easy it is to become a dictator.

Free speech and open political expression were once considered a great value by Helen and her ilk. Free speech and the right to the free expression of political views were once something supported by the left. With one or two noble exceptions however, blogger No Right Turn heading the list, not one has raised a decent voice in opposition to this case. It seems that free speech as a left-wing value is dead. Carry out the coffin. And then shoot the pall-bearers.

As No Right Turn has noted before, the legal definition of sedition is so broad as to criminalise virtually any criticism of the government. If today's political opposition were doing their job properly, they should themselves fall guilty under the Act. Not likely today, however. And not one word either in opposition to this case from any of today's supine, brain-dead, morally-castrated, principle-free opposition.

A sedition trial is rare. So rare most people can't even remember the last time a troublesome political opponent was tried for the offence. The only thing stopping prosecution under this Act was the odium in which cases of sedition were held. With this case and this verdict however -- and with very little opposition -- it now seems the 'trial balloon' has been a success, and the way is clear to threaten all manner of political opposition.

And who in all fairness could now rise up in protest?

It's hard to express the necessary outrage at this verdict. For political debate in this country, it is chilling. It is a clear, frontal assault by the executive on political expression in this country -- and the judiciary has just handed Helengrad an outright victory. I would like to call on all of you to rise up in protest at this outrageous abuse of state power. I would like to, but I can't. The law doesn't allow me to.

That's how chilling it is.

As former Labour Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer said back in 1989, "Libelling the government must be permitted in a free society." It is apparent from today's verdict that the label 'free society' to describe this country would from this time on be erroneous. And how many people really do give a shit about that.

Ake! Ake! Ake!

TAGS: Politics-NZ, Free_Speech


  1. May I be the first to congratulate you on an excellent summation of this affair. I have to appeal because the precedent it sets is inconsistent with the proper functioning of a robust democracy.

  2. You can convict anybody of anything in this country if you can find 12 idiots and call them a jury - and there are plenty of idiots around nowadays.

  3. Thank you, Tim. I wish it hadn't been necessary to write such a summation.

    May I be among the first (and hopefully not the last) to offer any support you might need for the appeal?

  4. I'm probably one of those libertarians more hopeful that ACT might become consistently liberal, even if a bit limp wristed in its boldness of policy, but where is the liberal party now?

    Sitting back saying "it's just some agitating Maori guy who our voters probably think needs to be put in his place"?

  5. For my enlightenment: was Helen actually responsible for bringing these charges before the court?

    It happened on her watch, that's true, but could she have prevented it?

  6. Berend - Yes. She could have repealed the law; the Police probably would have tried incitement then and failed.

  7. A good post PC.

    I leave the country for a few days, and return to an entirely different landscape. It is chilling indeed.

    I think the blogosphere is starting to articulate this now, the slow start I attribute to the shock value.

    I've disagreed with Tim Selwyn on occasion, and I have disagreed with the government on many more.

    Long may this continue! The question can now fairly be asked though is "Will it?"

  8. Surely the key aspect of charging someone with sedition is the incitement or encouragement of violence/lawlessness. Therefore as long as you don't encourage others to break the law then you can criticise the govt all you like. I don't see what the problem is.


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