Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has spoken out in defence of academic freedom, but perhaps not as strongly as a group concerned about the safety of a Canterbury University Chinese government critic, Anne-Marie Brady, may have hoped.
Twenty-nine academics, researchers and human rights advocates are urging Ardern, in an open letter, 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”.
Brady’s home and office have been burgled, and car allegedly tampered with, since she last year published a paper on China’s campaign of influence in New Zealand.
Asked to respond to the letter in a post-Cabinet press conference, Ardern said she’d been advised police were still investigating Brady’s case.
“Quite frankly, if I had received a direct report that said that 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,” Ardern said.
“Just in the same way that I have to preserve the right of academics to speak freely without interference from government, I also have to preserve the right of the police to be able to act without interference as well.”
Asked whether it was safe for New Zealanders to speak out against China, Ardern said: “I absolutely defend the right of academics to utilise their academic freedom, and of course the rights that are granted to them from 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.”
Interest.co.nz has asked Ardern's office whether the intention is even for the Prime Minister to see the police report.
The letter (signed by the likes of Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager, Amnesty International executive director Tony Blackett, and London School of Economics PhD candidate Tze Ming Mok) said: “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, including migrant communities and tangata whenua.
“Freedom of expression and academic freedom are taken for granted in New Zealand, as givens upon which our social and political norms are based.
“Threats to these freedoms should not be taken lightly. In these uncertain times, these are principles to hold to, and are not to be traded away.”