[Marxism] More flag-burning arrests in NZ

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Thu Jul 29 15:16:01 MDT 2004

Last week, Anti-Capitalist Alliance activist Paul Hopkinson had his
conviction for burning the NZ flag overturned by the High Court.

Burning the NZ flag was made illegal in 1981 by the National Party
government of Robert Muldoon, during the mass protests against the
Springbok tour of that year.  Labour kept the law on the books after it
came to power in 1984 and has continued to do so after returning to
power again in 1999.

In fact, the first prosecution of anyone under this odious law was
carried out by Labour, when the Labour government organised Paul's
prosecution last year.  This law is expressedly political as the
attorney-general, who is a Labour MP and member of the government, has
to sign off on the prosecution.

The court ruling last week made clear that burning the flag is a
legitimate form of protest, so the court ruling was a slap in the face
for Labour and National alike.

To press home the point and to test the ruling - ie to make sure that
this really does mean people can now burn flags - ACAers and Peace
Action Wellington, the antiwar coalition in the capital, organised a
protest at parliament last night (Thursday night), including a
flag-burning ceremony.

The protest was only called at a few days' notice and only 17 people
from Peace Action and ACA were present, as compared to about 50 cops,
including some of the top cops in the country.  They told the protesters
that anyone who burnt a NZ flag would be arrested.  The ACAers present
decided to go ahead and burn several NZ flags.  Three ACA flag-burners,
along with an anarchist, were arrested.

The ACAers arrested in the midst of burning the flags are Paul (who is
also our candidate for mayor of Porirua, a big, largely Pacific Island
city on the north-west outskirts of Wellington), Steve Hay (a volunteer
organiser in UNITE, the new union for the low-paid, who is also our
candidate for mayor of Wellington) and Nick Kelly (who is campaigns
officer in the student union at Victoria University in Wellington, who
has also been a union delegate in the rail, maritime and transport
union, and who is our candidate for mayor of Upper Hutt, a working class
centre on the northern outskirts of Wellington; Nick is ex-Labour,
having been expelled from the LP for opposing the war in Afghanistan).

The charge, however, was not under the Flags and Emblems Act, but
'disorderly conduct', one of those nice catch-all charges that the cops
can use at whim.  Of course, it is obvious that this is de facto an
arrest for flag-burning, so it will be interesting to see what happens
when it comes to court.

The first case we fought over the flag-burning took from March 2003,
when Paul was arrested and charged, until last week, when his conviction
was finally overturned.  Hopefully, the new charges will be thrown out
next Wednesday when those arrested last night appear in court.

Should they be convicted, we would be appealing the convictions and we
would have the honour of running three convicted felons for mayorships
in three of the four mayoralties in the greater Wellington conurbation.



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