New Zealand Law Society - Disagreement with Censor's ban on terrorist's document

Disagreement with Censor's ban on terrorist's document

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The Free Speech Coalition says the Censor's classification of the publication reportedly written by the terrorist behind the fatal attacks in Christchurch as objectionable is wrong, unconstitutional and counterproductive.

Coalition spokesperson and lawyer Stephen Franks says it is a completely improper use of the censorship powers.

“Most New Zealanders will have no interest in reading the rants of an evil person. But there is a major debate going on right now on the causes of extremism.  Kiwis should not be wrapped in cotton wool with their news and information censored.”

Mr Franks says New Zealanders need to be able to understand the nature of evil and how it expresses itself.

“Our society has surmounted many more terrible threats than this by allowing each citizen to engage, hear, read, and reject evil for themselves.  It is completely alien to our history and our strength of a self-ruling citizenry to be told that only those in power may know and tell us what they want us to think an evil person has written.”

“For the same reason we don’t ban Mein Kampf, the manifesto should not be driven underground.”

The Censor's decision

Chief Censor David Shanks says the document, examined under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993, is deemed objectionable for a number of reasons.

He says while some people have referred to the publication as a "manifesto", he considers it a crude booklet that promotes murder and terrorism. It is objectionable under New Zealand law.

"It promotes, encourages and justifies acts of murder and terrorist violence against identified groups of people, ” says Mr Shanks.

“It identifies specific places for potential attack in New Zealand, and refers to the means by which other types of attack may be carried out. It contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty, such as the deliberate killing of children.

“We have dealt with terrorist promotional material before which was deliberately designed to inspire, encourage and instruct other like-minded individuals to carry out further attacks. For example we have found a number of ISIS publications to be objectionable in previous decisions. This publication falls in the same category."

Mr Shanks says an objectionable classification for this publication is considered to be a justifiable limit on freedom of expression under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in this case.

“There is an important distinction to be made between ‘hate speech’, which may be rejected by many right-thinking people but which is legal to express, and this type of publication, which is deliberately constructed to inspire further murder and terrorism. It crosses the line."

Offence to possess or distribute

Mr Shanks says it is an offence to possess or distribute an objectionable publication. People who have downloaded this document, or printed it, should destroy any copies.

He says those engaged in further reporting on the Christchurch attack may be tempted to consider the use of quotes from the publication that have already been used in other media reports.

“That use of excerpts in media reports may not in itself amount to a breach of the FVPCA, but ethical considerations will certainly apply. Real care needs to be taken around reporting on this publication, given that widespread media reporting on this material was clearly what the author was banking on, in order to spread their message.

“We also appreciate that there will be a range of people, including reporters, researchers and academics, who will be in possession of the publication for a range of legitimate purposes, including education, analysis and in-depth reporting. Those individuals can apply for exemptions, so they can legitimately access and hold a copy.”

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