‘Lying in Unison’ – Report of the Ombudsman

I rise on behalf of the Green Party to try to dig a bit deeper into the problem that this report exposes. The report does expose very serious weaknesses and problems, not only in the Immigration Service but in other departments that the Immigration Service was mentioned as working with, such as the Department of Corrections, Customs Service, police, and the SIS, which were all involved in the Zaoui case, right from the time Mr Zaoui arrived on 4 December as a former member of Parliament trying to claim asylum in our compassionate country. That report shows, partly, the terrible way in which he was treated.

It is clear from the report that the request from National Party researcher Sarah Boyle was not handled at all well by the Immigration Service, and there was a clear attempt not to provide all the information and to treat a lot of it as very secret and secure, and say: “Let’s consult those other departments and the police etc., etc.” It wanted to hide what was going on with Ahmed Zaoui, because it is one of the most shameful chapters in our history.

The real story is coming out bit by bit, after Ahmed Zaoui has been rotting in jail for 14 months, completely unjustly. The real story is coming out and will continue to come out as time goes on. It was within that context of the Immigration Service trying to keep things under wraps that the atmosphere from Andrew Lockhart at the top, the manager, infected people like Ian Smith, who came out with that “lie in unison” quote.

What happened with Mr Zaoui was that it was secret for a while, but then the

New Zealand Herald

got on to it and repeated the information from overseas, from Algeria and France, and slanders against Mr Zaoui that were circulating internationally at the time. It came out in the documents provided to the Immigration Service that the police were retailing all those lies from the Algerian regime, too.

For instance, in the immigration papers discussed in the select committee there was an explanation from Jon White, New Zealand’s assistant police commissioner for counter-terrorism, as to why they were advising that Mr Zaoui be held as a high security prisoner. It stated that he was wanted on an international warrant related to terrorism and he had been sentenced to death in Algeria — that is the regime in Algeria that has killed tens of thousands of people and has sentenced 1,500 dissident democrats to death in absentia so that they do not go back into the country. That was being retailed by a head police officer for counter-terrorism. There was only one international warrant, as I found out in written questions to the Minister of Police, and that was a warrant from the Algerian regime. It is disgraceful what was happening at that time, and that was in a letter circulated, including to the Immigration Service, on 6 December, a couple of days after Mr Zaoui arrived. It is absolutely disgraceful.

A few days later, on 11 December, the National Bureau of Criminal Intelligence produced a memorandum that stated that Mr Zaoui was considered a senior member of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a terrorist group, which the Refugee Status Appeals Authority has proved definitively he has had nothing to do with and is an opponent of. That 11 December document, as it has been publicised, also used the Larouche website — an extremist American group — took information from that, and retailed it in the 11 December document.

Then it said two outrageous things. It said there was a risk of Mr Zaoui trying to instigate relationships in New Zealand to assist him in gaining legal residential status in New Zealand. Why cannot an asylum seeker work with others, including myself, lawyers, and communities, to achieve that sort of thing? That police document also stated that there is also the political risk that he will try to gain some support by utilising the media. There is a basic right under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act that anyone in New Zealand can speak to the media.

The document also stated there has been a total media blanket in relation to that individual, and that is the context in which Ian Smith and the Immigration Service took up the “lie in unison” and tried to prevent information from getting out. It was all under wraps — why he was put in solitary confinement in Paremoremo prison. That is an absolute disgrace. Just before the “lie in unison” thing was written, I went to see Mr Zaoui in Paremoremo prison. It was absolutely disgraceful. He was not given the right to have a lawyer of his choice. He was assigned a lawyer that the Refugee Status Appeals Authority later found was inadequate. He was in solitary confinement, shut out, and they were trying to keep it all in total secrecy so that he could not even get proper legal representation.

When I first went to see him he had a bare cell, and he was not allowed to have a copy of the Koran, or any writing materials. His radio did not work, etc., etc., and I had to push very strongly at that time — as MPs do when they visit prisons to look at the condition of prisoners — for him to have appropriate support there. For doing that — and it is in the media logs; it is very interesting the way it is portrayed in those media logs of Mr Ian Smith — I was attacked, and the Immigration Service seems to glorify that. He said that Green MP Keith Locke was told off in Parliament by the Immigration Minister, Lianne Dalziel, for getting into high security Paremoremo prison in Auckland and raising the hopes of suspected terrorist Ahmed Zaoui, and that Ms Dalziel accused Mr Locke of breaching an MP’s powers under the Penal Institutions Act. I was doing my job as an MP. That is the problem, and I think that is one of the reasons why that Minister is no longer Minister — she did not accept the rights of MPs to go into prisons, and she did not accept the rights of MPs to raise the disastrous situation of people like Mr Zaoui at that time, in the media.

It is disgraceful that as a result of this cover-up – the information is only starting to come out, bit by bit — that Mr Zaoui was forced to spend 8 months suffering in solitary confinement, which caused him extreme mental distress, as has been shown by the psychologists who have visited him. The original police document shows they did not want people to go in — it is in the original police document that all visitors should be monitored.

Failures have been exposed across the Department of Corrections, the Immigration Service, the New Zealand Police, and the Security Intelligence Service, in this case. It is good that the Ombudsman has now agreed — on Matt Robson’s initiative — to inquire into the handling of this case by the Customs Service, the Department of Corrections, and the Immigration Service. I understand there is also a Police Complaints Authority complaint being lodged. The Security Intelligence Service is under big scrutiny now.

I have put in a request for the Ombudsman to look at any role that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade played in this exercise, too. That is the Government agency that should be more skilled in knowing what is going on in Algeria and the repressive nature of that regime, and countering the misinformation that has been used against Mr Zaoui and was quite rightly discredited by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, which said he should have refugee status.

One thing that comes out of this whole sorry episode is that the one person who has integrity, who is shown to be honest in this whole thing, is Mr Zaoui himself, in that the Refugee Status Appeals Authority clearly described Mr Zaoui as truthful, uncontrived, and candid, even when the evidence might prove to be disadvantageous.

What needs to happen out of this, if we look at, particularly, the exchanges with Andrew Lockhart and Mel Smith, the investigator in this report, is that Mr Lockhart should go, too. He should no longer be in that job. It is a very sorry tale. When we look at the media log, we see that it is just so biased and distorted the way things are presented. Mr Zaoui is only now, as a result of the release, finally, of the Security Investigation Service accusation against him being informed of what they claim to have against him.


Parliament – Urgent Debate