A senior Algerian Government minister has started an “action plan” to pressure the New Zealand Government to cancel Ahmed Zaoui’s refugee status.
A report in the Algerian newspaper el-Youm quotes Saida Ben Habiles saying she will never rest until his “retrial takes place so that the public opinion would be sure that he is a criminal, not a politician”.
Mr Zaoui’s lawyers have condemned the report as more vicious propaganda from the military rulers in Algeria through the use of Government influenced newspapers.
“It sent chills down my spine,” said one of the lawyers, Deborah Manning.
Samir Benkadi, a friend and political colleague of Mr Zaoui, says Mrs Ben Habiles was one of the initiators of the military coup which overthrew Mr Zaoui’s democratically elected party, the FIS, in 1992 and made death threats against him and other party members.
The use of the media as a propaganda machine for the Algerian regime is criticised in the decision of the New Zealand Refugee Status Appeals Authority which cleared Mr Zaoui of any terrorist links.
“This shows us that this was what was happening with Switzerland and Belgium, it does give a hint that this is what they’ve been doing before,” he said. “They’ve been pressuring all the Governments not to accept him.”
Mr Zaoui – still in limbo at Paremoremo Prison despite the appeals authority clearance – was an elected politician when the FIS – the Islamic Front for Salvation – was overthrown.
Although he has been granted refugee status he will stay in solitary confinement until a decision is made on a Security Risk Certificate issued on the basis of secret information held by the Security Intelligence Service.
The appeals authority harshly criticised the SIS for the quality of “questionable” unclassified information it gave to the hearings. The authority said much of it came from newspaper reports and the internet.
The Prime Minister’s office took the unusual step last week of issuing a statement from the Director of Security defending the unclassified material, saying it was a compilation of publicly available material responding to an Official Information Act request.
Yesterday, Helen Clark refused to comment on either the SIS or the appeals authority.
The authority also refused to speak to the Weekend Herald, considering it inappropriate to enter into public debate.
“The decision of the authority is final once notified and having published its decision the role of the authority is at an end,” said registrar Brian Lewis.
Victoria University political scientist Dr Rod Alley told the Weekend Herald he would put his money on the authority to have reached the correct decision.
“They must have been confident enough in what they were doing to tackle the SIS which they did publicly.”
The criticism did not surprise him – the SIS was under-resourced and had come under criticism before for the way it reported information.
David Ryken, a lawyer and representative on the Refugee Council, said SIS information given to refugee hearings was sometimes suspect.
“We’ve been involved in cases before where the SIS has said x, y and z and it’s just a load of rubbish.”
The secret SIS information could have originated in Algeria and found its way through a variety of countries to New Zealand. “Is it likely that the Algerian Government has by now used the intelligence circuit to pass false information? Most probably they have.”
Amnesty International New Zealand director Ced Simpson said the case was important for Mr Zaoui’s human rights and because it was about the Government’s positioning within the war on terrorism.
“The thought of labelling someone who has been a victim of terror as a terrorist on the say so of Government agencies which have a vested interest in distorting this definition of terror … it would be very, very disturbing if there was any suggestion that New Zealand was putting itself in that camp.”