Upholding The Accused’s Right To Write.


THE SHOCK/HORROR expressed at the Christchurch Shooter’s letter from prison is unworthy of a grown-up nation. A bold assertion, to which the cynical will undoubtedly reply: “True – but this is New Zealand we’re talking about!” Beleaguered liberals will chuckle ruefully – and move on. Because who now believes that the shock/horror “deplorables” are in any way redeemable? And, who really cares?

Such defeatism is unworthy of us. Historically, New Zealanders have shown themselves to be perfectly capable of moral clarity. It was almost sixty years ago that the New Zealand Parliament voted to abolish the death penalty. Does anyone, today, seriously dispute that this legislative reform was carried out against the strong opposition of what was almost certainly a clear majority of the electorate? No. And yet, the politicians of 1961 did not surrender to the ignorance and cruelty of the “hang-‘em-high!” majority – they rose above it.

Our Parliament did the same in 1986 when debating the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. Those around at the time will recall the extraordinary rally of conservative Christians who gathered on Parliament’s forecourt to pile high the boxes containing the signatures of the 800,000 New Zealanders petitioning the House of Representatives to reject the Bill. This was, easily, the largest petition in New Zealand history. Did the majority of MPs favouring reform quail before this frightening demonstration of the Christian Right’s numbers? They did not. The Bill became law.

These battles were won because in both 1961 and 1986 liberal New Zealanders still believed in the duty of reason to over-rule ignorance and cruelty. They refused to be swayed by mere numbers. That a majority of the population believed in the state-sanctioned killing of helpless individuals, or evinced a knee-jerk antipathy to homosexual acts, proved only how dangerous it was to determine what is and is not morally defensible by counting heads.

Even at the risk of someone crying “Godwin”, it is still worth asking if, in 1935, the infamous “Nuremburg Laws” discriminating against the Jews of Germany had been put to a referendum, and endorsed, would that have excused everything that followed? Of course not.

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Democracy isn’t just about honouring the will of the majority, it is also – and perhaps more importantly – about protecting the rights of the minority. Precisely because they are human rights: inherent and unalienable; they are not susceptible to the vagaries of popular opinion. To suggest otherwise, which, shamefully, appears to be the position of the NZ First Party, is to invest the majority with the power to annihilate their enemies – and democracy along with them.

The Christchurch Shooter is a human-being charged with appalling crimes. Even so, and those alleged crimes notwithstanding, the outraged majority is not entitled to turn him into a thing without rights. As a prisoner of the state, he must be accorded all the rights and privileges guaranteed to him by law. Included among these is the right to communicate with the outside world: the right to write a letter.

Does this mean that he must be permitted to write to his racist followers, instructing them to make war upon innocent human-beings? Absolutely not. Any more than we are obliged to permit a person to cry “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. The letters of the Christchurch Shooter, by inspiring White Supremacists all around the world, have the potential to inflict suffering and death on an horrific scale. As such, the prison authorities have both the right and the duty to prevent such communications being sent.

By the same token, however, those Ministers of the Crown with an interest in the trial of the Christchurch Shooter have a duty to uphold the international covenants guaranteeing the rights of prisoners to which New Zealand is signatory. Moreover, they should all possess the wit and will to patiently explain to the ignorant and the cruel why it is their duty to protect even an evildoer’s rights.

Is it too much to expect senior members of our Government to be capable of this? Surely, every politician should understand that we protect the rights of human-beings precisely because not even the most depraved act can cancel-out the fact that its perpetrator is also a human-being – and therefore a possessor of rights.

Herein lies the paradox. That the criminal’s attempted negation of our common humanity only serves to heighten its inherent and transcendent value. That is why, by honouring the Christchurch Shooter’s right to write, we are simultaneously acknowledging and honouring the humanity of the people who fell before his bullets. More importantly, by negating his negation, we are proudly proclaiming his utter moral defeat.

If New Zealand’s liberal politicians have forgotten these arguments, then, surely, it is time they relearned them.


  1. I hope Andrew Little and other Ministers vocally stand up for the Christchurch mass murder’s rights to communicate his thoughts and reasoning to his supporters.

    • Cough – Ada you are purposely misrepresenting the argument. You know full well that the legal rights the prisoner has have parameters right?

        • During The War, it was impractical for New Zealand’s expiationary force of 20,000 soilders to take, arrest and prosecute 50 million German soilders. Taking prisoners and giving fair trial distinguishes our domestic system of law from international threats and the war on terror. If we some how we do reach a point where all peaceful means have been exhausted, which we haven’t, then you may take no prisoners.

  2. You seem to be redefining Democracy here Chris. Democracy has it’s shortcomings but it is not about the greater wisdom of the elite few deciding for the ignorant masses. Exactly the same arguments you make here can be applied to the greater wisdom of the neoliberal economists deciding what is right for the ignorant masses who have to do the work and watch their futures disappear down the drain.
    D J S

  3. I would agree with the sentiment, had this government not already suffered from moral hysteria and turned on its own citizens – monitoring Facebook, rushing ham fisted gun reform without due legal process, criminalising those who view the manifesto and looking to instigate hate speech laws.
    Yet we defend this maggots right to communicate?
    The minister (Gower interview) was just embarrassing apologising to the entire world for allowing it to happen.
    Good grief.

  4. Kia ora Chris

    On one level the person of Brenton Tarrant is irrelevant to the discussion.
    The question of principle is “Should an accused person held in state custody be allowed freedom of communication with family and friends, subject only to the restrictions which would legally apply to the communications of any other innocent person?”

    Yesterday the New Zealand state was saying “We mishandled the management of this prisoner’s communications and as a result we will bar him from further communicating with anyone in the outside world”.

    Next it went on to suggest “Because we mishandled this case, we will look at a law change to withdraw the right to communicate from all accused persons”.

    Today it is saying “Because we mishandled Tarrant’s case, we have selected roughly 100 prisoners who on the basis of their perceived political opinions will be more tightly restricted in their ability to communicate with those outside.”

    With regard to Tarrant in particular the facts are:
    The day that Tarrant was taken into Corrections custody SIS agents were seconded to Corrections to keep watch over him. Technically they answer to Christine Stevenson, but in reality they are under instructions from Rebecca Kitteridge. These agents, for reasons best known to themselves decided, with due deliberation, to allow Tarrant’s letter to “Alan” to go outside the prison walls.

    Christine Stevenson has taken the rap, but this was not an inexplicable failure of judgement on the part of Corrections officers as the regime media is suggesting. It was a calculated SIS decision to which Kitteridge herself was party.

    The real issue, which no one in the regime is allowed to discuss, is the nature of the complicated relationship between the SIS and the alt-right in general and Tarrant in particular. That is why Tarrant’s “Great Replacement” thesis is banned, and why no one in the regime wants us to know anything about Tarrant or his ideology.

    If the regime persists with this approach, and I see little possibility that it can or will choose to change tack, then I do not see how Tarrant can be brought to public trial.

  5. In 1961 there were 30 MPs, all National I believe, who voted against leglislation abolishing the death penalty.
    I would like to agree with you Chris about the moral clarity of New Zealanders but the clarity seems increasingly to be very narrow and tunnel visioned with a lot of fuzzy dirtyness to each side.

  6. Well said Chris!

    I was in favour of banning the video because it was awful (I saw it before it was banned) but I question the logic of banning his manifesto. I read that too. It wasn’t the work of a typical Nazi, for example he praised Communist China and the Chinese. It also had an environmentalist bent. What it appeared to me to be was the work of a madman. It went all over the place, an illogical, rambling spew of general bile.

    So why the rush to ban his words? Are we so fragile these days that we cannot handle it? Are we so weak minded that he might persuade us with his argument? Really?

    I think the Christchurch massacre was cynically used by totalitarian opportunists within our government to try and trample all over our freedom. Especially the attempt to implement ‘hate speech’ laws where none of those proposing it could define the term. But you can be sure that if they’d managed to impose it on us, their practical application of a ‘hate speech’ law would be heavily biased in favour of their ideology.

  7. FFS Chris have you not learned a goddamn thing??

    Haven’t you learned that these far right lunatics feed off each other??

    Your obsession with free speech at the expense of peoples lives is like those Americans who practucally worship the effing 2nd amendment

    I’m calling you on this one mate. If Tarrant’s writings inspire another lunatic to go on a shooting spree, YOU and your clique of free speech fanatics are partly responsible!!

        • I want you to tell me exactly what is well said and well thought?

          If we want to understand how to dismantle terrorism then the legal system will have to do its job. The old idea that terrorism can be fought with a terror of our own is simply futile. All forms of conflict have its ideology.

          As I pointed out somewhere else the alignment of conflict is very toxic and emotionally draining to people on the one hand. On the other hand it’s useful to pretend that terror is caused by social media so we don’t have to look at the toxic effects the economy plays.

          The reality is that conflict is turned off, and it can be turned on by the economy and we probably won’t know what the true cause is until a judge hands a verdict to Brenton Tarrant. We can claim that social media stressed out Brenton so much that he had to satisfy those urges with murder. But we don’t really know what stressed him out.

          There must be something biological that broke inside of Brenton Tarrant. There are no behaviours that are inherently genetic to white people and there are no behaviours that are predetermined, especially in social media as if social media can predetermine someone’s behaviour. Non of this is genetically determined by some theoretical “white genome.” It’s like saying brown people are genetically predisposed to crime, which is just wrong!

          I claim this is a matter of identifying the causes and what motivates some one to commit acts of terror in a scientific way, and ensuring that the governments doctrine, training and structures are always up for it.

          • Of course Frank. What you wrote about the role the media has to play is perfectly logical and we should always be aware of the power of speech.

            Somewhere along the way we find out how a terrorist cell deals with immigration and what we get is this completely false dichotomy built around superiority which is very deterministic and woven in with DNA and the codes of codes and the holly grail, Y’know bullshit.

            On the other hand humans are social organisms and biology is for slime moulds because humans are free of biology and obviously both views are nonsense.

            What we see instead is that it’s virtually impossible to understand what makes terrorist cells tick outside of the context of there childhood neighbourhood.

            But for most part propaganda means nothing to anyone, even if some how people are driven to commit acts of terror we’ve driven the tools of mass violence deep down and far away.

            The Police now have such an advantage over wana be terrorist and they may well be inevitable but we don’t have to wast resources on ad hock fixes. Societies energies should be for ameliorating the conditions in which conflict can erupt.

            Yes white supremacy is a horrible thing and so are those who chase the ambulances. On the ground floor those who are the first to respond to terrorism do so safe in the knowledge that they have not been prepared for it. These are the people journos report on and these people are dealing with mental health issues of there own. So I don’t think any of this can be well designed or best practice until the courts do there thing.

    • Something has changed in human psyche . The guy shot with his girlfriend there at 2 in the morning in their camper van in Raglan looks like a copy of the kids killing spree in Canada a few days before. The rich are at war with the poor , the poor are at rich with each other,America is at war with the world .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncdY2nGKzBs .
      There’s definitely a trend to copy and go one better . It might be an unfortunate offshoot of the internet.
      D J S

  8. Well, hard to know .. haven’t read the manifesto or the letter(s). If the media would report on the content and substance we could all make informed decisions.

    Unless his letters directly insight violence – Let Him Send Letters !! The whole white supremacist rhetoric in the media is just a dog-whistle. Shameful.

  9. By all means check his letters but leave other prisoners alone they didn’t shoot 51 people in the back and many are now imprisoned miles away from their homes and a letter is often their only means of communication with their whanau many are poor and cannot travel to see them and we know that this communication helps with rehab.

  10. Stuff the terrorists rights, he took those away when he took the lives of 51 people and wounded dozens more.

  11. Given no ‘coincidences’ exist in politics and power; THAT a prisoner ‘under guard,’ on charges of mass-murder writes and POSTS incendiary hate-speech’ letters furthering that ambition, that are later broadcast widely on-line -> must be argued not so much a ‘freedom of speech’ issue as a ‘breach of security’ one, and begs the question Geoff Fischer is asking above [“..but this was not an inexplicable failure of judgement on the part of Corrections officers as the regime media is suggesting. It was a calculated SIS decision to which Kitteridge herself was party”] This brings to mind Karl ROVES’ extraordinary statement under the idiot George BUSH: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
    So in ‘studying what they do’, this ‘accidental release’ becomes ‘direction or deflection.’ ‘Narrative control.’ Timing is everything. What purpose did it and does it achieve getting it ‘out’ and widely published?
    Where does it direct our thinking?

  12. You lost me in insisting on your right to redefine 800,000 of us as the Christian Right. Christian, yes, Right no.
    Decades later, it’s worse than I fearef when I signed that arrogantly ignored petition. We are mired in a cesspool of hysterical identity politics and thought crime.

  13. Prisoners should be allowed to write to others but anything that incites violence and criminal behaviour censored.

    The law is already in place. Whether corrections understand it, is another thing. It sounds like the media don’t.

    Likewise groups are allowed to meet, from Muslins, jews, blue dragons, mongrel mob and also white supremacists. It is only when they break the law and incite violence to others that they should be criminalised.

    Hopefully we have not reached an Orwellian conclusion that the state has the right to control what individuals think or believes.

    If you have a healthy society then you would not have the above problems. It is the unhealthy society whether mentally, criminally or socially that is creating the growing in/out group identity politics and the push back of social groups of those messages of who is in or out.

    What is Orwellian is, the justice system is increasingly utilising artificial intelligence and computer algorithms in sentencing decisions. Are those algorithms biased?

    YES, as soon as they have an ethnicity component then may contribute to for example the growing Maori in jail. This should be banned.


  14. While I agree with the sentiment, I’m uneasy about suggesting that democracy should not reflect the will of the people. Ultimately, letting the people have their say and then implementing that decision through government it what democracy is all about. To say that elected representatives should vote against the will of the constituency that elected them, to me, seems like a dangerous road to go down.

    That said, I do fully agree with protecting the rights of minorities against the whims of the majority. This includes the rights of prisoners.

    This is why I feel having a written constitution, in plain English, that sets out the fundamental unalienable rights of the people is so important and should be something NZ moves towards implementing. This way politicians wouldn’t be required to move against the will of the people to protect the rights of minorities. Any existing, or future, legislation could be weighed against the constitution to determine if any decision would breach a fundamental right of any group or individual.

  15. It would probably be a bit rich for our parliamentarians to change the communication laws when one of them told another in writing they “Deserve to die”. Hypocrisy. As ridiculous as giving a Nobel peace prize to a war criminal. Anyway we already had the GCSB change the laws just so they could snoop on NZ citizens, it’s probably a step too far to monitor and censor an incarcerated gun nut. That would be like Spark censoring what information travels through our telecommunication networks, like an electricity company telling us what appliance we should buy and use. But no one in their right mind should give two trucks about this gutless gun sook, he’s just a law change away from having no rights to connect with his pen pals. And I suspect the bros inside probably wouldn’t appreciate their communications stopped because of some gun fantasist.

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