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New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern petitioned to protect China critic who had house and office burgled

  • Dozens of New Zealand academics, human rights workers and intellectuals have written an open letter urging the prime minister to ensure the safety of academic Anne-Marie Brady
PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 10:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2018, 9:07pm

Dozens of New Zealand academics, human rights workers and intellectuals have written an open letter to prime minister Jacinda Ardern urging her to protect the safety of a China academic who has been subjected to a year of burglaries and harassment.

Anne-Marie Brady, an expert in Chinese politics at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, had her home and office burgled in February, and her car sabotaged this month.

Brady says she became a target after the release of a paper on Chinese foreign influence last year.

The 29 signatories to the letter said they had been “shocked and disturbed” by the incidents against Brady, and “academics must be able to work without fear”.

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“Attempts to intimidate and harass one academic in New Zealand have implications for the freedoms of all the others – and indeed, for the freedoms of all who live here.”

The letter, also addressed to foreign minister Winston Peters, urged the government to take the threats against Brady “more seriously … in consideration for their implication for all New Zealanders”.

“We also urge prime minister Jacinda Ardern to make a clear statement in defence of academic freedom in New Zealand in light of the Brady case, and to be very clear that any intimidation and threats aimed at silencing academic voices in this country will not be tolerated.”

Signatories to the letter included the executive director of Amnesty International New Zealand Tony Blackett, Professor of International Relations at Otago University Robert Patman, and author and journalist Nicky Hager.

I absolutely defend the right of academics to utilise their academic freedom
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

At her post-cabinet press conference, Ardern said she was awaiting a police investigation into the burglaries and alleged tampering, which she couldn’t talk about as it was still ongoing.

“Quite frankly, if I received a direct report that said there was an issue there that could be directly attributable to China or at China’s direction, we would act on that, but I have not received such information,” she said.

“I absolutely defend the right of academics to utilise their academic freedom and, of course, the rights that are granted to them through our legislation. I absolutely support that and defend that.

“They should continue to be able to do their work, and with freedom from repercussion from this government or any other government.”

It is understood a secretive branch of police, the national security investigations team typically employed to handle terrorism and espionage cases, is working on the Brady case.

Brady has been an outspoken critic of China and has called on New Zealand to follow Australia’s lead in curbing China’s influence on domestic affairs.

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Her paper “Magic Weapons”, published last year, detailed what she claimed was a nexus of political donations and appointments of prominent New Zealanders to boards, linked to a broad campaign led by China with the aim of shaping New Zealand policy.

Ardern has said that New Zealand was vigilant to the threat of foreign interference, and has robust measures in place to protect New Zealand institutions. She has recently confirmed she will not visit China this year because a suitable time could not be found.

“The PM is looking forward to visiting China at the earliest opportunity,” Ardern’s office said in a statement.

The open letter to Ardern and Peters received support from Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman and David Seymour, leader of right-wing political party ACT.

“Academic freedoms are paramount to the health of our democracy,” Ghahraman said.

“Any evidence of threats or intimidation aimed at undermining academic independence must be taken seriously by the government.”

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Last week Brady said she and her family had requested security help from the government but it was not forthcoming.

“I am really concerned about the safety of my family. About four months ago we asked for more protection from the New Zealand security intelligence service … we haven’t had a reply,” Brady said.

“We are doing everything we can to improve security in our home. But New Zealand is a very open society … we’re just doing the best that we can by ourselves, but we’re not security specialists.”

Additional reporting by NZME