Media Release: Foreign influence on AUT chills free speech

30 July 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
AUT University’s cancellation of a commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre betrays the freedoms of students and contradicts the purpose of a university.
 
“AUT’s claim that the cancellation of the peaceful commemorative event was due to the Queen’s Birthday Holiday is a poor excuse,” says Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Dr David Cumin.
 
“OIA requests have shown that the Chinese consulate commended the University for its decision to cancel the booking. Many AUT students will be appalled to see the university play lapdog to a foreign regime.”
 
“The participants of the Tiananmen Square protest were students peacefully protesting a violent regime. AUT dishonours their memory by silencing another protest focused on the same illiberal government.”
 
“Like all publicly-funded universities, AUT has a purpose ‘to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or unpopular opinions’, as per sections 161 of the Education Act 1989. Instead, AUT’s attitude towards free speech is beginning to look like that of the Chinese state. These are not New Zealand values; these are despotic values.”
 
“It is suspicious that these events are similar to the University of Auckland's cancellation of screenings of a documentary critical of the Confucius Institute after the consulate’s outcry. New Zealand university students and patrons deserve better.”
 
END


Media Release: Politicians should be reminded not to misuse Police to suppress criticism

25 MAY 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Free Speech Coalition calls on the Police and Human Rights Commission to remind politicians that they can’t misuse false complaints Police to suppress criticism.

It is especially important to uphold the freedom of speech guaranteed under section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights as elections loom.

“This follows media reports of a Rotorua mayoral candidate seeking Police intervention because a political opponent compared her to the Pied Piper on Facebook.”

Spokesperson, Dr David Cumin, says "The New Zealand Bill of Rights clearly states that 'Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form'."

"Calling for police intervention seems to be a serious attempt to intimidate. It diverts Police from real crime. Politicians who won’t meet argument with argument, and instead ask the state to punish critics are not fit to hold power.”

“It is a great example of how ‘hate speech’ laws would really be used.”

“The Police should clearly state that they cannot censure offensive opinions because our laws explicitly allow for robust discussion. And the Human Rights Commission should be standing up for the human right of free expression."

“Government statements seem to be encouraging attempts to use the law to censure people for expressing their opinions as if ‘hate speech’ law had already replaced our free speech law. Last year, Sir Ray Avery tried to use the Harmful Digital Communications Act to shut down unflattering media reports. Now a Rotorua councillor is trying the same.”

ENDS


Media Release: Andrew Little shows how anti-speech laws will serve political elite

15 APRIL 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Justice Minister Andrew Little has shown how new anti-speech laws would be twisted to suit the political elite, says the Free Speech Coalition. This is in response to Mr Little’s statements suggesting it should be easier to complain about (and sanction) speech like that contained within a ‘One Law for All’ pamphlet.
 
“We now see just how low the bar for defining ‘hate speech’ can go,” says Free Speech Coalition member Dr David Cumin. “The cause of equal citizenship is one supported by a large proportion of New Zealanders. Even if it was a minority position, these New Zealanders should have the same right to make their case as those with opposing views, such as Andrew Little.”
 
“Instead, we see the Justice Minister threatening to use his position of power to shut down the voices of political outsiders. This move would conveniently protect Mr Little’s own political position and set a precedent to shield other ‘politically correct’ views from challenge. It’s a perfect example of how new speech suppression laws can and will be twisted to stifle opposition to those in power.”
 
“Existing laws against harassment and the incitement of violence can, and should, be enforced on an objective basis. The kinds of laws promoted by Andrew Little are far more open to biased interpretation based on the prejudices of the elite political class.”

ENDS


Media Release: Free Speech Coalition will defend current and long held free speech rights

31 March 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Free Speech Coalition will campaign against new laws to supress traditional freedom of speech signalled by Justice Minister Andrew Little.

Constitutional lawyer, and Free Speech Coalition spokesperson, Stephen Franks says, “New Zealand already has clear laws against incitement of violence. We have a very new, uncertain, and far reaching law against digital harassment."

"We have seen little or no effort by the government to enforce the existing law in the internet era, or even to explain it. Few New Zealanders know how our existing law works to criminalise genuinely hateful attempts to incite violence and contempt. We have seen instead repeated efforts to justify the granting of fresh powers like those used overseas to allow  authorities to criminalise arguments and the expression of concern about issues where they want only one view to be expressed or heard."

"The Government and the Human Rights Commission should focus on explaining and enforcing the existing law, not disgracefully seizing on the wave of sympathy from all decent New Zealanders, to rush through new restrictions on the opinions we may debate, express and research."

"The term ‘hate speech’ is deliberately extreme. It has been designed to prejudice discussion. It exploits the decency of ordinary people. How could anyone not oppose 'hate'? But as defined legally it generally means something that could upset someone. Overseas examples often just gives authorities the ability to say it means what they want it to mean from time to time. Recently, in Britain, their version of the law was used to bring criminal charges against an elderly woman who refused to use a transgender man’s preferred designation as a woman and insisted on referring to him as a man who wanted to use women’s toilets.”

“New restrictions raise obvious questions around who gets to decide which ideas are suppressed, how many peaceful New Zealanders could see themselves targeted, and how these laws could be used in future to shut down speech for political reasons.”

“The worst aspect of this law is the ‘chilling effect’ – even speech that would pass the legal test may still go unsaid due to fear of committing this new kind of blasphemy. This has fundamental risks across society, from academic debate to internet memes.”

ENDS 


Media Release: Government intervention over ISPs has free speech implications

27 March 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Government has set a dangerous precedent for free speech by asking ISPs to continue blocking certain websites, says the Free Speech Coalition.
 
Free Speech Coalition spokesman Dr David Cumin says, “The Free Speech Coalition didn’t challenge the original decision of ISPs to block these websites. They are after all private enterprises, and concerned customers have the option of using a competitor.”
 
“However, a threat to free speech has emerged with the Government’s intervention. Governments don’t just ‘ask kindly’ for companies to block content – any request from those with regulatory power comes with an implicit threat of ‘…or else’.”
 
“A worst case scenario would be the Government using the excuse of one objectionable video to block entire websites that host content authorities dislike for political reasons. Even if the current Government’s intentions are pure, its actions set a precedent that should be resisted to prevent any abuse in future.”

ENDS 


Newsletter: Christchurch and free speech

Dear Supporter --

Condolences over Christchurch

Some of you will have noticed the message of condolence we posted to join the nation in mourning over the horrific terror attack in Christchurch. The violence in Christchurch was not just an attack on the Muslim community – it was an assault on our free society, intended to spark terror and disrupt peace.

In our view, “[the] principle of freedom of speech should be inseparable from the principle of non-violence. If not, it counts for nothing. Those who condone or use violence are the villains, always.”

In the wake of terror attacks, Governments often consider curtailing a number of civil liberties. With that in mind, the Coalition has invested time into following Government announcements and calls for action from political parties and NGOs.

We have made inquiries about some of the reactions that raised our concern. We asked ISPs if they blocked certain websites due to government pressure, and have sought more information about the arrest of a Masterton woman for posting material on Facebook.

We refrained from public statements due to a lack of information on those cases and out of respect for families who had yet to bury their loved ones. Unlike our opponents we were determined not to politicise the tragedy in the immediate aftermath, especially when the nature of any speech restrictions was not yet clear.

Considered opinions

While many commentators responded with ill-considered and highly-politicised outbursts, there have been some excellent and considered opinion pieces that deserve to be shared.

They include Bryce Edward’s article urging caution over kneejerk blaming and Chris Trotter’s post that warns against the expansion of our legislation to include “hate speech”.

We recognise that the events in Christchurch are likely to mean our group will need to work harder to ensure New Zealanders are able to freely impart and receive information. We are currently refreshing our website which will begin to include articles from our members (and other commentators) that sensibly deal with issues of speech rights. If there is an article you recommend (or if you yourself have a contribution) please send it through for consideration.

Chief Censor decision

The Chief Censor announced over the weekend that the terrorist’s 74-page manifesto is now classified as ‘objectionable’, making it a crime to hold, share, or quote from. This is a dangerous precedent that seems to fly in the face of the rights of New Zealanders to seek understanding about the motivation behind the terrorist’s evil acts.

On Saturday we issued this press release which quickly led to coverage on RNZ and even Time magazine:

"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."

This morning I appeared on the AM Show to articulate our concerns.

David on AM Show

The video linked above starts with an interview with the Chief Censor. My segment begins at 5’45’.

We are currently seeking advice on how best to fight the Censor’s decision, but to read the material ourselves we have to wait for the Censor to approve this (or we risk going to jail).

Jordan Peterson and Whitcoulls

A number of our members contacted us about Whitcoulls's decision to stop selling Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life, due to what the company describes as "some extremely disturbing material being circulated prior, during and after the Christchurch attacks".

The Free Speech Coalition did not make a public statement on this issue, and unless there is evidence the government pressured Whitcoulls, we will not take a formal position on what seems to be a matter between a private company and its customers.

I encourage those interested to contact Whitcoulls about the matter here.

In the meantime, the Free Speech Coalition will continue to focus its efforts on the actions of government (or government-funded) authorities, and others who would use coercion to shut down free speech. 

This work is only made possible due to your kind contributions. Thank you for your continued support.

Donate

Dr David Cumin
Spokesperson
Free Speech Coalition


Media Release: Banning of manifesto a step too far

23 March 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Free Speech Coalition says the Censor’s banning of the Christchurch terrorist attacker’s manifesto is wrong, unconstitutional, and counterproductive.

 “This is a completely improper use of the censorship powers,” says Coalition Spokesman and constitutional lawyer, Stephen Franks, responding to media reports of the banning.

“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.”

“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.”

ENDS


A letter from David Cumin

23 March, 2019

 

The overwhelming response to the Christchurch terror attack has been, generally, remarkably positive and uplifting and it makes me proud to be a Kiwi.

 

The hundreds of flowers piled high outside mosques, the tens of thousands of people attending vigils, the millions of dollars raised, and the countless tears shed privately and in public attest to not only the deep impact of the horrific attack but also the depth of sympathy and generosity around the country.

 

Kia kaha, Aotearoa.

 

There have also been remarkable acts of kindness that have surfaced in the news and online: from the bystanders who attended to wounded and dying victims, to a truly incredible survivor forgiving and praying for his wife’s murderer only days after becoming a widower. Truly humbling.

 

The whole country rallied together, it seemed, and this was in no small part because of the compassionate and strong leadership shown by our Prime Minister. Ms Ardern didn’t allow herself to be drawn into partisan politics or divisive speeches; but rather held victims close, pledged sensible actions on gun control and an investigation into how our security services could do better. The way Rt Hon Ms Ardern handled the immediate aftermath of the most horrific attack on New Zealand soil only increased my pride in our small nation.

 

In the immediate hours and days following the heinous attack, it seemed as if the whole country was holding up as best as one can. Especially considering many of us didn’t think such an act could or would be committed in Aotearoa. And special thanks must be given to the emergency services, particularly Police who deployed to sensitive sites to keep us all safe from copycat or revenge attacks and the many officers who put in the hours to be visible deterrents and beacons of comfort.

 

The support from overseas is also noteworthy - generous donations from all over the globe poured in and world leaders from allied nations expressed condolences in our hours of pain. The intangible “thoughts and prayers” go much further than some would think. New gun laws will go further to prevent another mass murder and the bipartisan approach in New Zealand’s parliament on this front has been another ray of light in the gloom.

 

Unfortunately, it did not take long for the fringe activists to capitalise on the tragedy and for there to be some extremely concerning actions that play right into the terrorist’s hands.

 

In his manifesto, the terrorist was clear that he wanted to foment division, spark a “backlash”, and pit other extremists against each other.

 

Social media users were quick to oblige. The vilest posts, of course, were far right keyboard warriors who expressed support for the murder and tried to incite more violence. Thankfully, arrests have been made for such incitement. Thanks once more to our Police and security agencies.

 

Following closely behind support for the cold-blooded slaughter of 50 people were the explicit and implicit calls for exactly the backlash hoped for by the terrorist. Leading this charge was Islamic State, issuing a message for followers to act on; and not far behind was Turkey’s President Erdogen, who whipped up hatred with images from the terrorist’s live-stream of his coldblooded mass murder as Turkish representatives landed in New Zealand.

 

Beyond the copycat and revenge attacks, however, there was a disturbing trend among other social media users. While bodies of the murdered had not yet cooled, there were hotheaded comments that suggested there be wholesale censorship of anything considered “far right”. Some social justice warriors even started creating lists of political opponents they believed to be complicit in the mass murder. It was a vile display of spreading the blame and a gruesome form of modern-day McCarthyism. There were even some who supported violence against an Australian senator who expressed unpalatable views and blamed the victims. Assault should never be OK.

 

I am willing to excuse some of that as hot-headed, kneejerk, grief-led outbursts. However, it is not so easily excusable from the media, elected leaders, and respected companies.

 

While journalists simultaneously called for restraint in comment, there were headlines that focussed on the terrorists visit to Israel in his multi-country travels that included Serbia and North Korea, for example. Or the sensationalist reporting of ISIS threats and the apparent attempts to hide previous stories that suggested the Christchurch mosques had links to international terror groups.

 

Some politicians launched into speeches that seemed to blame the attack on all White people and, for some bizzare reason, separated indigenous people from others - just as the terrorist’s manifesto spoke of “invaders”. Some politicians took swipes at political opponents and encouraged the diversion of anger and grief away from the terrorist and onto political opponents; encouraging exactly the division that the terrorist hoped.

 

Meanwhile, internet service providers (ISPs) suddenly decided to be the guardians of morality and censored wholesale websites without consultation and one national bookseller decided to remove copies of Jordan Peterson’s tome (while continuing to sell Mein Kampf, it must be said). Some elected officials of New Zealand gleefully praised these acts and urged followers to report “hate speech” so that the Police might act on people who express ideas contrary to their own; and the Chief Censor has deemed the terrorist’s manifesto is ‘objectionable’ so that anyone owning it or sharing it or quoting it is liable for a fine or jail.

 

The absurdity and danger of these steps cannot be overstated.

 

First, it is virtually impossible - just ask Chinese people living under a totalitarian regime - to completely censor online material. And I would imagine that the majority of the users of the blocked sites are IT-savvy enough to bypass the ISP measures and let others know how to.

 

And whatever means are used to keep the conversations going and connect like-minded individuals are likely to not only be more difficult for our authorities to monitor, but are likely to become more extreme as they are fuelled by conspiracy theories and resentment at being driven “underground”.

 

Most importantly, however, is the effect that these actions have on our democracy. The message sent by banning a book that has sold millions of copies and helped almost as many people (by all accounts) is that the extremists are representative of the mainstream. If "Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world" is verboten, but "By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work" is OK, we are in serious trouble.

 

The undeniable message that is also being sent is that anyone who expresses any sentiment that is in any way contrary to the prevailing mob mentality, then you are worthy of censorship and elimination.

 

The danger and hypocrisy of such thinking can best be illustrated by considering the para-factual. Exactly the same widespread blaming and calls for mass censorship were coming from the far right after previous Islamist terror attacks.

 

The extreme-left and Islamists today are acting entirely congruent with the far-right of yesterday.

 

Cooler heads must prevail. This tragedy must not lead to the measures those who are exploiting the murder are calling for. We must maintain our freedoms.

 

Now that families have buried their loved ones, now that the immediate threat of copycat or revenge attacks are over, now that we have all had a little time to digest the events of 15 March, 2019, let us take a breath.

 

New Zealand has changed forever. Our innocence has been taken. But we must remain a liberal democracy. We must fight for the right of abhorrent views to be expressed as long as they do not incite violence. The alternative is much, much, worse because not only will the extremists on all sides become emboldened, but we will all lose important freedoms.

 

We must struggle with ideas - especially when they are distasteful. We must counter the hate with love and better ideas. We must challenge ourselves and others. We must not submit to those who think they know better or those who threaten us with violence.

 

Kia kaha, Aotearoa.

David Cumin


Christchurch shootings

Free Speech Coalition offers condolences to those affected by the Christchurch Shooting

 

The Free Speech Coalition joins the rest of New Zealand in its mourning and condemnation of the events in Christchurch.  On behalf of the Coalition, Rachel Poulain says:

"Yesterday, New Zealand’s Muslim community, the people of Christchurch and indeed, the nation, were subject to the most despicable act of terrorism in our history. 

To peacefully practice one’s religion is one of the most fundamental freedoms of expression we have. Yesterday, a disgraceful, cowardly terrorist used weapons of war to violently silence innocent people in the worst possible way, as they were doing just that.

This was an attack on everything New Zealand stands for as a liberal democracy.

Violent extremism knows no political bounds. Anyone who threatens, intimidates, or physically harms another person for ideological reasons is wrong. What happened yesterday was the absolute worst manifestation of that.

The principle of freedom of speech should be inseparable from the principle of non-violence. If not, it counts for nothing. Those who condone or use violence are the villains, always.

We extend our deepest condolences and aroha to the victims of this horrific crime.”

 

END