Friday, June 09, 2006

Sedition conviction

A Jury has convicted Tim Selwyn of sedition. The conviction related to a pamphlet that Tim left at the scene of an axe attack on Helen Clark's electoral office. Tim was also accused of seditious conspiracy by emailing Black Power members seeking help in his campaign. His refusal to answer questions there may have hardened the Jury's hearts against him. The full text of the seditious pamphlet can be found here (he was convicted for the Ponsonby Road Pamphlet but acquitted of the Pamphlet left outside the electorate office because there he called for acts of civil disobediance) but the offending text is:
By attacking the electorate office [...] we signal that a threshold has been crossed.


We call upon all like-minded New Zealanders to take similar action of their own to send a clear message that such a gross, blatantly racist injustice to the Maori people will never be accepted.
By calling upon people to commit crimes similar to the axe attack on the electorate office windows, Tim was found guilty under s81(1c) of the Crimes Act 1961 which stipulates:
(1)A seditious intention is an intention—


(c)To incite, procure, or encourage violence, lawlessness, or disorder; [...]
People have been calling it an assault on free speech using archaic laws that, if enforced strictly, would criminalize blogs critical of the government and public protest. These views are nonsense. s81(2) of the Crimes Act states explicitly that a seditious intention does not exist if, among other things, the person is pointing out an error in government policy or the administration of justice and seeks their remedy by lawful means. Tim, by encouraging others to take similar action to the crime which he has committed, has crossed that line and his actions have become unlawful. Our Bill of Rights offers him no defense for s5 states:
Subject to section 4 of this Bill of Rights, the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights may be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
For a concise statement of demonstrable justifications might exist, one can do no worse than turn to the European Convention on Human Rights, which after stipulating the Right to Free Speech then states(emphasis mine):
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Article 10(2), European Convention of Human Rights
Other reactions against Tim's conviction include:
Media commentator and Timothy Selwyn supporter Bomber Bradbury says the verdicts signal a sad day for freedom of speech in New Zealand.

He says Tim Selwyn's actions were a protest and there was no intent to overthrow the Government or burn down Parliament.
It is not necessary to seek the government's overthrow in order to be guilty of sedition. What the act criminalizes and what Tim was found guilty of was the inciting, procuring or encouraging "violence, lawlessness, or disorder". A more sober argument against Selwyn's conviction can be found here:
Criminal law expert Scott Optican says he has never heard of a prosecution for a seditious pamphlet being brought.

He believes it is free speech to call for lawless action and only becomes sedition when that call is for immediate action and is capable of producing results.
Scott's belief is wrong as the words "procure, or encourage" do not require an immediate response to be effective.