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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

New police rules for protesters 'appalling'

November 22, 2007

By HANK SCHOUTEN - The Dominion Post | Wednesday, 21 November 2007

New police instructions allowing protesters to be moved or blocked 
from view if they offend a VIP are a breach of freedom-of-speech 
rights, civil liberties lawyer Tony Ellis says.

New police general instructions were published yesterday alongside a 
Police Complaints Authority ruling critical of the way police handled 
pro-Tibetan demonstrations during the 1999 visit by Chinese President 
Jiang Zemin.

Mr Ellis, of Wellington, said letting police move protesters out of 
sight "if their behaviour is disorderly or personally offensive and 
humiliating to the VIP", as stated in the police instructions, was an 
appalling breach of the right to freedom of speech and peaceful protest.

Freedom of expression included the right to shock, horrify and 
offend, he said. "If the president of China is offended by somebody 
holding a Tibetan flag outside his hotel - well tough, that's what 
political protest is about."

Foreign or national VIPs should not have the power to have people 
moved on. "It is unbelievable that this should be in the police 
manual of best practice," Mr Ellis said.

However, Police Minister Annette King defended the new instructions.

"If behaviour is truly offensive in the normal sense, such as 
exposing genitals or buttocks in a crude way during a visit by the 
Queen, for example, then it is appropriate for the police to take 
action to move such protesters on."

The authority, which took eight years to conclude its investigation, 
said there was no lawful justification for police to stand on flags 
to stop two women protesters waving them at the Chinese president's 
motorcade in Wellington in 1999.

There was also no justification for police to move about 20 
protesters from outside a city hotel because Chinese officials 
thought their chants could be heard from inside the hotel.

The authority said it was a peaceful protest and that the noise 
levels at that time - about 2.30pm - did not justify intervention.

Police acknowledged this and five protesters, who were wrongly 
arrested for obstruction and minor assault, later received an apology 
and a $50,000 out-of-court payout.

Mr Ellis said the authority's report was whitewash. It was clear 
police planned to curb the right to protest when their operational 
order promised to "make every effort to minimise the impact of protest".

Rick Sahar, who was involved in the 1999 protest, said the report was 
disappointing. It had taken far too long and did not go far enough in 
identifying how police decided to act and on whose authority, he said.

Authority head Justice Lowell Goddard said she regretted the delay in 
issuing the report.

The authority had been waiting for police to incorporate 
recommendations of a parliamentary committee into its general 
instructions and manual of best practice "in a manner acceptable to 
the authority".
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