Saturday, February 24

Protest rights abused – Again

Today, Daniel Maxwell appeared in court in Auckland after being arrested last year for counter-protesting at a pro-Palestinian rally. 

You won’t believe the reason listed on the Court’s Summary of Facts:

“Police have been informed by the Palestinian rally organisers that their people see any form of Israeli regalia as a sign of violence towards them… [Maxwell] was carrying an Israeli flag [and] given a direction by Police to leave the area and not return.” 

Maxwell did leave when instructed, and took his flag with him. Later, he came back to the same public location, having left his flag behind this time.

That was when he was arrested for obstruction. This seems like a stock-standard case of counter-protest, but if he’s found guilty he will face a fine of thousands of dollars, or up to 3 months in prison. 

Court document

I’ll make this short. When an individual can’t peacefully fly a flag as counter-protest in a public space, because individuals interpret this as ‘violence’ towards them, our speech rights are dead. 

This is not the only protest case we are pursuing at the moment. We’re looking into this issue, but we understand it is becoming common practice for police to arrest counter-protestors in public spaces.

More concerningly, we have been told by Sarah Bullen, a senior officer at the Independent Police Conduct Authority, that a number of arrests of a very similar nature have been made, and in response a collection of similar complaints to the IPCA. We are very concerned by this claim, and are exploring it further. If this statement is true, it would seem to indicate a systematic use of ‘breach of the peace’ powers, and regular abuse of speech and protest rights.  

The use of ‘breach of the peace’ laws to suppress lawful protest is a development the Free Speech Union has observed overseas, particularly in Britain, but more recently also in Canada and Australia. We insist this practice must not be accepted in New Zealand. 

There is a problem in our police force. We need to remind that peaceful protest is a basic freedom in a democracy.

We have written to the Attorney-General and the Minister of Police, highlighting that this is a simply unacceptable arrest. Police must drop these charges immediately, and apologise for wrongful-arrest. 

Daniel has been provided with a legal-aid lawyer, who I’m sure will very competently handle his case. But the legal-aid system is heavily loaded, and the stakes are too high to not push for the best representation available to make the strongest case possible. We must insist that free speech be respected, even if others are ‘offended.’ 

But we know this won’t happen unless we bring our full force against them. 

Daniel will be back in court on 24 April. Will you stand with us by contributing to his legal costs so we can get him the best lawyer possible to defend this basic right? 

Words are violence’ isn’t just a trite phrase we hear from teenagers on university campuses doing gender studies.

It’s now the grounds on which people are actually being arrested. 

I won’t sit back and roll the dice on Daniel’s fate- I hope you won’t either. Legal fees are expensive, but they’re worth it. I trust you will stand with us before it’s too late. 

P.S. Protests rights aren’t negotiable. This abuse isn’t acceptable. We need your help fighting this in the court.  

Author