The following is the text of an open EMail I have sent to the Prime Minister -
Last night TVNZ screened an item on the continued incarceration of Ahmed Zaoui and his possible deportation from New Zealand. While this documentary added little new to the debate it reinforced a growing sense of unease among many New Zealanders.
Such unease is inevitable when a man can be incarcerated for two years without being charged with any crime; when the government strives to overturn the carefully considered decision of the Refugee Status Appeal Authority and other courts and above all when the case depends on evidence so secret that ( it is asserted) its credibility, substance or even existence cannot be tested in open court.
The unconscionable time Ahmed Zaoui has spent in prison is now largely beyond the government's power to rectify (provided the government's latest appeal and the Inspector General's review are dealt with as expeditiously as possible) but, even at this late stage, freeing him (under whatever consitions are necessary) would mitigate the injustice.
The RSAA determined that Ahmed Zaoui was entitled to refugee status under the Refugee Convention and reached this determination after fully considering his convictions in and deportations from France, Belgium and Switzerland; his alleged breaches of NZ immigration law and the unclassified summary of evidence against him presented by the SIS. The only circumstance under which this decision might be overturned without offence to due process is if the classified material disclosed new credible and substantial new evidence which would probably have reversed the RSAA decision had it been available to them. The strictures the Court of Appeal has placed on the Inspector General's review seem to do little more than give effect to this requirement.
It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will have any more enthusiasm than the Appeal Court for the position that a secret administrative review can lightly or narrowly overturn the open decision of a judicial body and, to that extent, the Crown's appeal may not be a bad thing but the potential for further delay in a case that has already taken far too long outweighs the advantages of having our highest court adjudicate on the Inspector General's powers. Besides the likelihood of a general constitutional review (which can hardly fail to address the Crown's exceptional abilities to restrict fundamental liberties) raises the possibility that any such decision may subsequently require relitigation.
It is, of course, the matter of secret evidence that goes to the heart of our unease in this matter. This unease is not helped by the fact that no credible or material new allegations have been put forward following the Appeal Court's earlier ruling that Ahmed Zaoui was entitled to a summary of allegations against him. Nor has anyone privy to the evidence made an unequivocal statement to the effect that such evidence exists. Nor have they revealed the nature of the alleged security risk to NZ. If, as seems likely, it is just a matter of how NZ (or the SIS) is viewed by foreign secret services then let us be viewed as a country that puts the values we are defending before the mechanics of defending them. The French secret service, at least, know we are not as soft a touch as they thought.
The present law for secret evidence means the Government is, in effect, saying to the people "Trust us, we are your guardians". I would trust your government before some of its predecessors but any government truly worthy of that trust would know better than to ask for it. If I may take the liberty of paraphrasing your own words -
If we relax our vigilance and turn a blind eye to secret trials by a government we trust, with what moral authority do we reassert it when those same measures are taken by a future government we do not trust?
Prime Minister, I was proud to hear our country playing the part of a friend to our allies that was prepared to tell them they were taking the wrong turn. It is in the same spirit that I write to beg that we do not defend our country by abndoning the values that make it worth defending.
I have posted a copy of this letter to my blog and would be happy to publish any reply with your permission.
Reply received as follows
Thank you for your e-mail message. It is difficult to respond to
the many e-mail messages received. We do however read
everything that is sent and if a unique issue has been raised or
new information presented we will respond as soon as possible.
Naku noa, na