16 October 2014
Apparently, the New Zealand government is not a huge fan of press freedom. The national police force recently raided and ransacked the home of Nicky Hager, an independent journalist who has been a thorn in the current leadership’s side for some time now.
In August, one month before New Zealand’s national election, Hager published Dirty Politics, which showed that key figures in Prime Minister John Key’s National Party were feeding derogatory information about their opponents to a virulent right-wing blogger named Cameron Slater. Hager published evidence in the form of incriminating emails, provided by a hacker, demonstrating coordination between National Party officials and Slater. The ensuing scandal forced the resignation of a top Key ally, Justice Minister Judith Collins, and implicated numerous other National Party officials and supporters. Despite the scandal, the National Party won a resounding victory in the election, sending Key to a third term as prime minister.
And then, once safely back in power, the government wasted little time:
On October 2—less than two weeks after the election—detectives from a regional “major crime team” came to Hager’s Wellington home armed with a search warrant authorizing them to seize anything that might lead them to the identity of his source for Dirty Politics. The warrant shows that prior to the raid, a police “intelligence analyst” had studied Hager’s media appearances in an effort to discover information about his sources for the book, taking particular note of references Hager made to knowing the source’s identity.
Over at The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher note that Hager was also working with them on some Snowden documents as they concerned what was happening in New Zealand. As you may recall, right before the election, Greenwald had used some Snowden documents to show that Prime Minister Key had lied about mass surveillance — leading Key to petulantly lash out with ad hominems at Greenwald, referring to him as a “loser.” Greenwald made it clear that they would likely be revealing more about New Zealand’s activities — and now wonders if that might be another reason why Hager was raided, once the government figured out who Greenwald was working with.
Either way, the search seems quite excessive and seriously raises questions about New Zealand’s respect for the freedom of the press:
Once they entered the property, detectives spent ten hours sifting through Hager and his family’s personal effects, making copies of any USB storage devices they found and seizing Hager’s computer, personal documents, a camera, a dictaphone, CDs, and dozens of other items—not to mention his daughter’s laptop, cellphones, and iPod.
The whole thing seems fairly crazy, and clearly done to intimidate Hager and others for daring to actually call out the government’s bad behavior. These are the kinds of actions that we’re supposed to believe no longer happen in modern democracies, but they seem to be happening on an increasingly frequent basis.