Humanist Society of New Zealand (Inc.), PO Box 3372, Wellington, New Zealand – Registered Charity No. CC36074
The Humanist Society of New Zealand is a Member Organisation of the International Humanist and Ethical Union
Humanist Newsletter– December 2019
Kia Ora: Our current year is passing, and we begin 2020 after the summer period. Always a time to refresh spirits and determine new beginnings. As this year passes, I think of humanist colleagues who have passed on. It is a sad feature of our scattered humanist community that we do not always hear when friends leave us in death. I would like to remember Derrick Payne-Davies who died 15 October 2018, a year ago. Our condolences to Joy, Derrick’s wife, and to his family. Derrick was a staunch humanist who always supported humanist activities with vigour.
Monday 2 [email protected] 6.30pm until 9.00pm
Free Speech – Hate Speech
Most people who think about Free Speech and Hate Speech sit on and off the fence. We want to enable freedom of expression. But we do not want the result to be discriminatory or dangerous. A discussion was held at Victoria University 10 October with presenters Professor Paul Spoonley, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Massey University; and Liam Hehir, Partner, Fitzherbert Rowe Lawyers, and regular blogger on this and other social topics. Iain and Gaylene Middleton, and Peter Clemerson attended. Peter will give us an overview and summary of the ideas discussed.
All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.
Wellington Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the George Room
· Eileen Bone Victoria University Scholarship: The 2020 Scholarship of $1000 to assist with Victoria University costs has been awarded to Caicee Whitman who will begin his studies in Building Science in 2020.
· AGM 2019 Election of Officers: We are delighted that we continue as for 2019: President: Jolene Phipps, Vice-President: Mark Honeychurch, Treasurer: Sara Passmore, Secretary: Gaylene Middleton, Committee: Iain Middleton, Pamela Mace, Lachman Prasad, Aaron Davies, Peter Clemerson and Rana Amjad Sattar.
· President’s Report-2019 Activities: 2019 was a year of varied activities. On the Submissions front we prepared submissions for Ministry of Education Religious Instruction guidelines (December 2018), Blasphemy Law Repeal (March 2019), End of Life Choice Bill (August 2019), Abortion Law Repeal (October 2019). We put out two Press Releases on the Christchurch shooting (March 2019) and Repeal of Blasphemy Law (March 2019). We have supported Guluilai Ismail with letters to the Pakistan High Commission, and continued our Eileen Bone Scholarship which supports a Naenae College student to attend Victoria University. Sara, Iain provided information for the 2019 NZ and Australia Update for Humanist International’s Freedom of Thought Report. Sara Passmore, Iain Middleton & Mark Fletcher attended the Launch of New Zealand statement of Religious diversity. There were visits between humanists – Babu Gogineni visited and spoke at Wellington, Napier Auckland and Iain & Gaylene Middleton visited the South Asian Humanists at the Humanist Café in Hyderabad, India. Peter Clemerson began an investigation of FGM in NZ. Finally, our Monthly Meetings continued with discussions on topics Atheism in Islam with Dr Negar Partow, Blasphemy law and Hate speech law with Iain Middleton, Non-religious pastoral care with Colin Woodhouse, Defending Reason and Humanism in India with Babu Gogineni, Street Epistemology with Jolene Phipps, and a discussion with meeting attendees on our submission on Abortion Law Repeal.
In July we celebrated Matariki and marked the repeal of the Blasphemy Law with a cake. Two meetings were of a social nature. Peter Clemerson continued with FGM investigation an issue that Humanist NZ has long had an interest in eradicating and banning from NZ.
· Marriage celebrants: We wish to thank Peter Clemerson for his years as a Marriage Celebrant. Peter has decided to step down from this role. Ryan McLane([email protected]) will continue as a Marriage Celebrant in the Wellington area. We also express thanks and acknowledge the celebrant work of Pamela Sikkema in Auckland who died last year.
· Sceptics Conference, Christchurch 29 November – 1 December. IT IS NOT TOO LATE
· Free Speech-Hate Speech: Peter Clemerson has alerted us that there is a task force made up of staff members of the Ministry of Justice and the Human Rights Commission who are interviewing members of communities who are potentially or actually targets of “hate speech”, however defined. A letter with the following points is sent out to participating communities prior to meeting representatives of them.
1. The events of March 15 have reinforced the importance of continuing the public debate about harmful speech, hate speech and freedom of expression. It is time to look closely at our current laws, policies and social responses. Are they adequate? Do they strike the right balance between the different rights and interests involved? And do they appropriately reflect the New Zealand of today?
2. The Minister of Justice has asked the Ministry of Justice to look at policy options to address questions like these.
3. To help to inform this work, the Ministry wants to begin by listening to the experiences, concerns and views of groups that may experience hate or harmful speech. This will help the Ministry learn and reflect about the issues as they develop their work.
4. The Human Rights Commission will hold a series of small community conversations with groups of people who may have experienced or may be at risk of experiencing harmful or hate speech, to help to inform the Ministry’s work.
5. What we hear from these groups will inform the early development of the Ministry of Justice’s work and contribute to the ongoing work that the Commission does in this area. We are interested in understanding experiences of the full spectrum or harmful and hate speech, and the current and possible responses.
6. These are limited engagements, designed to inform future work. That future work will include broader opportunities to widen the conversation and hear from other interested groups and individuals.
· Hate speech community conversations
1. The Human Rights Commission and Ministry of Justice wish to hear from groups and people who may have experienced or may be at risk of experiencing harmful or hate speech. We wish to listen and understand the issues, examples and learning from groups of people in New Zealand who have lived experience of hate speech.
2. The Commission will ensure that individuals’ identities will be protected in the community conversation sessions, if you would like to provide anonymous input. However, the content of what is said will be written down and will be shared with the Ministry of Justice to help inform their work and will be used by the Commission to help inform our work in this area. There will also be Ministry of Justice representatives at the meetings to observe and to hear what you have to say. If participants have any questions or concerns about privacy/use of information and/or Ministry of Justice attendance, they can raise these with the facilitator prior to the conversation or on the day.
3. The information gathered by the facilitators will be used to support informed, inclusive and respectful discussion about harmful speech hate and hate speech. We will provide participants with a copy of the anonymised notes from the meeting.
4. The Commission is pleased to work with different groups and leaders around New Zealand to provide a comfortable venue and catering for the conversations.
5. The Commission is also doing other work in this area, including a nationally representative survey that will ask questions about harmful speech, discrimination, attitudes, and knowledge.”
Humanist NZ has written to Andrew Little indicating our interest in being a part of these conversations. We will advise of developments. Have you been a target of hate speech? Please let us know about it.
· Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and the introduction of a new Bill against Female Genital Mutilation in NZ: This abhorrent practice has been a concern for many years and was made illegal in New Zealand in 1996. Council member Peter Clemerson has been spearheading an investigation into FGM in our own country to determine if it is occurring here. An Official Information Act (OIA) request has informed us that there are insufficient records kept to confirm this. Peter has made contact with persons who may help us clarify the NZ situation. Let us know if you have any information.
To address concerns that the present legal definition of FGM has loopholes, a bill to clarify the legal definition has been introduced to Parliament. The bill is jointly sponsored by Jo Hayes (National), Priyanca Radhakrishnan (Labour), Jenny Marcroft (New Zealand First) and Golriz Ghahraman (Green Party). Women MPs across four political parties have banded together to ensure female genital mutilation is illegal in New Zealand. It is believed to be the first time that legislation has been introduced in the name of a number of MPs from across Parliament. The bill is scheduled to have its first reading on December 4, as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which follows the United Nations International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25. Ghahraman said that New Zealand does not currently ensure all practices of FGM were illegal. “We know this has been falling outside of New Zealand law. No form of mutilation is acceptable. It is an abuse of girls and women. “This bill is a testament to the staunch and persistent advocacy done by women in affected communities in Aotearoa, which as women parliamentarians we have listened to and are proud to bring into law.” She said the bill had come from the work of women from a range of impacted communities in New Zealand and across the world. “What are we doing as legislators if we don’t look out for some of our most vulnerable citizens? This change means that we are stepping up and helping to try and eliminate the cruel practice of female genital mutilation.”
· Submission on the Terrorism Suppression (Control Order) Bill
Humanist New Zealand were concerned that this Bill as drafted allowed overseas injustices to be perpetuated in New Zealand. This might occur when individuals convicted on dubious charges of Terrorism in other countries entered or returned to New Zealand. In some countries, state and non-state actors sometimes use the laws of their countries to unjustly, or maliciously charge a person with false accusations of terrorism resulting in unsafe convictions. Recognising these convictions in New Zealand would lead to further injustices. The problem is a known problem with various charges and convictions in Pakistan and may occur in various other countries.
Iain Middleton presented our submission at the Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade select committee and drew attention to the problems faced by Gulalai Ismail and her family in Pakistan, and how this is relevant to the wording of New Zealand law. While Pakistan is ostensibly a democracy with the rule of law, the application of law is sometimes dubious, particularly when the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) is involved. The ISI is sometimes considered the real centre of power in Pakistan and evidence used to obtain convictions may be fabricated rather than real. Iain asked Gulalai Ismail to join him by video link to explain to the select committee the chain of events that led in less than a year to Gulalai, an internationally recognised and respected Human Rights advocate with multiple international awards, being arrested and eventually charged with a raft of very dubious charges including terrorism. She was initially arrested on her return from London in October last year and placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) at the insistence of the ISI for talking about her Human Rights work while overseas because, they said, it supposedly brought Pakistan into disrepute! She was then arrested again without warrant or charge and “disappeared” but after international pressure was released when Prime Minister Imran Khan interceded. Thousands of people who have been “disappeared” in Pakistan have not survived. Earlier this year, continuing her Human Rights work, Gulalai visited the tribal areas to investigate reports of sexual harassment by the Pakistan army and found that the problem was significantly larger than first reported. When she drew attention to this in public, and to the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl, the ISI responded with a raft of charges based on fabricated or dubious evidence that included criticising state institutions (the army), sedition, treason, terrorism, and being an agent of India! Rather than face possible death, or imprisonment for an indefinite time, she escaped arrest by minutes. The ISI responded by putting her on a kill list. After a rather frightening and horrendous time Gulalai managed to leave the country and is now seeking asylum in the USA. After Gulalai’s arrival in the USA, Gulalai’s father, retired Professor Muhammad Ismail who is also a Human Rights advocate, was arrested and imprisoned on charges of cyber-terrorism because he used his computer to support her! He is now facing a possible 14 years in prison that he may not survive. The ISI had previously told him that if he did not silence Gulalai they would.
Calls for his release of Muhammad Ismail have come from various organisations including Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa33/1348/2019/en/ , The World Organisation Against Torture (link below), Humanists International https://humanists.international/2019/10/mohammad-ismail-detention-further-harassment-of-human-rights-defenders-in-pakistan/ , and Humanists New Zealand. Humanists New Zealand have written twice to the Pakistan consul expressing our concern for Muhammad Ismail and have previously written expressing our concern for Gulalai Ismail. Those wishing to take action in support of Muhammad Ismail should follow the advice of Amnesty International or the World Organisation Against Torture. It is noted that Supplementary Order Paper No. 397 seeks to amend the Bill to overcome our concerns. Our submission follows.
Humanist NZ supports the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, campaigns for human rights in New Zealand and internationally and for a peaceable world. We support free democratic societies and sound law supporting human rights. We oppose all who seek power through non-democratic means and all forms of terrorism and terrorist activities. Internationally, Humanists have campaigned for and supported freedom of religion and belief, and equal human rights for all. Humanists seek democratic means to improve Human Rights.
· Definition of terrorism We are concerned that the definition of terrorism appears ambiguous. Section 5 Interpretation begins with the words: “In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, –” Terrorism is then defined as: terrorism means a terrorist act as defined in section 5(1) of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. We then find that Section 6 (1)(c) says: “was convicted in a foreign country of an offence because of conduct that is or includes engaging in terrorism-related activities in a foreign country: or …” Similarly: 6 (1)(d), and 6 (1)(e) and other sections refer to terrorism in foreign countries.
We submit that in these and in similar sections it is unclear whether the definition of terrorism to be used is the New Zealand definition or the definition used in the foreign country. The context of “convicted in a foreign country of an offence … that is or includes engaging in terrorism-related activities in a foreign country” suggests that the definition to be used is the definition in a foreign country. We submit that most people would read it this way. We therefore suggest that it is appropriate to make it clear that such convictions should only be used if the conviction is likely to be sustained if the New Zealand definition of terrorism was used. We further submit that in some countries, some individuals, such as Human Rights advocates have been falsely and perhaps maliciously accused of and perhaps convicted of terrorism related crimes when all they have done is speak up for Human Rights.
We would like to draw your attention to the case of Internationally respected Gulalai Ismail, the winner of many international awards for her Human Rights work, who at the age of 16 founded an organisation to teach Human Rights to young people in the Peshawar area of Pakistan as a means of reducing the radicalisation of young people in this area and to counter the influence and recruitment efforts of the Taliban. Her pupils include the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai.
The persecution of Ms. Gulalai Ismail, which began in late 2018 escalated this year when she spoke out about and called for justice for a 10-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in May this year and “denounced the authorities’ inaction to bring the perpetrator(s) to justice”. The World Organisation Against Torture reports that as a consequence, she was forced into hiding after facing charges of “defamation” (Section 500 of the Penal Code), “sedition” (Section 124-A of the Penal Code), “promoting enmity between different groups” (Section 153-A of the Penal Code) and other charges under Section 6/7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. See: https://www.omct.org/humanrights-defenders/urgent-interventions/pakistan/2019/10/d25567/#_ftn3 .
Despite being placed on Pakistan’s Exit Control List, Ms Ismail managed to leave Pakistan after spending several months living in fear for her life and is now in the USA where she is seeking asylum. Members of the US congress foreign affairs committee have taken up her case. In response, charges are now being pursued in Pakistan against her father Professor Muhammad Ismail, a long time Human Rights advocate. On July 12, 2019, a First Information Report (FIR) was lodged against Ms. Ismail and her parents by the Counter-Terrorism Department in Peshawar, accusing them of having received “financial support from terrorist organizations”. Professor Ismail also faces charges of cyber-crime.
A copy of the World Organisation Against Torture report is attached. All these charges are manifestly false. Evidence has already been presented in court in Pakistan that has linked this persecution of Gulalai Ismail to the Pakistan Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) who are known to take whatever action they consider necessary to silence any perceived criticism of the Pakistan army or draw attention to the nexus between the Pakistan army and the Taliban. The Pakistan army uses the existence of the Taliban to justify the large amount of foreign aid that they receive. Back in 1994, the Pakistan government under Benazir Bhutto used the Pakistan army to create and train the Taliban to extend Pakistan’s hegemony into Afghanistan. Interviewed in 2001, Benazir Bhutto, stated her regret at having done so. Nevertheless, For Gulalai Ismail and her father to clear their names through the Pakistan legal system could take ten or more years or even much longer during which time they would be held in a Pakistan prison.
The point being made here is that people, including New Zealanders, can face false and malicious charges of terrorism in foreign countries and this Act should make it absolutely clear that only the New Zealand definition should be used when people are charged in a foreign country.
We are also concerned that people, including New Zealanders may be convicted on false evidence in a foreign country and as a result may be subjected to Control Orders on their return to New Zealand, and that false charges in foreign countries may prevent the issuing of visas to otherwise innocent people to prevent them visiting New Zealand. The Bill needs to allow people to challenge false allegations of terrorism that they may face in foreign countries and charges of terrorism that fall outside the New Zealand definition of terrorism. Recommendation. That the committee amends the Bill so that it is absolutely clear that only the New Zealand definition of Terrorism will be used in all cases, and that consideration needs to be given to the question of false charges of terrorism in foreign countries.