Freedom of speech 'under attack' at NZ universities

Nearly 30 prominent New Zealanders have signed an open letter saying New Zealand's freedom of speech is under attack at universities.

Don Brash and Dame Tariana Turia are among those who have signed the letter, penned by history professor Dr Paul Moon.

It follows the ban of Auckland University's European Students' Association, the cancellation of a visiting speaker after threats against her, and the Human Rights Commissioner's calls for a review of the hate speech law.

The letter warns of "the forceful silencing of unpopular views" on university campuses.

"It's rather like looking at an avalanche," Dr Moon told Newshub.

"We can see in Australia, the United States, the UK, there are some very severe restrictions on freedom of speech at universities and we are very concerned that that might happen here too. Really it's trying to prevent those sorts of trends emerging here.

"These threats being made by Dame Susan Devoy to introduce some sort of hate speech legislation is exactly that. It's a means to intimidate people, a means to shut them down because they are scared to be involved in hate speech."

Prominent anti-Islam speaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali was due to speak in Auckland on Sunday but has been forced to cancel due to fears for her safety. The appearances in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney were also shut down.

Ms Ali has spoken out on what she calls the "lethal ideology" of Islamism, after having left the religion herself.

It's now prompted violent threats - but Kiwis say she shouldn't be afraid to speak here.

"[She] is simply saying things that other people find uncomfortable," ACT Party leader David Seymour told Newshub.

"We have to have controversial debate. Without it, the democracy will die."

Muslim community worker Anne Degia-Pala told Newshub while Ms Ali's talk may be interesting, it won't be representative of everyone's experience.

"Her experiences are her own and based on a culture, not the religion of Islam," she said.

But while she may disagree with Ms Ali's views, she agrees the threats go too far.

"At the end of the day New Zealand is an open country and we have rights with freedom of speech, and we would have expected her to speak with some responsibility," Ms Degia-Pala said.

"Why would we, as women of New Zealand, deny her the opportunity to say what she has to say?"

Fellow Muslim woman Dr Amira Hassouna said the problem may stem from Ms Ali coming to speak only her side of the argument, rather than bringing a fellow Muslim scholar in and turning it into a debate.

"Her personal experiences are not enough to validate her argument against Islam and more than a billion Muslims," Dr Hassouna told Newshub.

"There is another perspective to the issue, showing many Muslims who lead peaceful lives simply following the teachings of Islam."

Dr Moon says New Zealand has got to the stage where people in some cases cannot give speeches because they are fearful of the pressure that is put on them.

"What we want is a society where everyone is free to express their ideas no matter how absurd some of them may be simply because that is the best way to deal with absurd ideas. Have them expressed, debated and debunked."

Mr Seymour said he had a ticket to see Ms Ali's show and says the fact she's afraid to come to our country is embarrassing on an international scale.

"I want to live in a country where the power and right of free speech is greater than the power of violence," he said.

"She has a view - I'm not sure it's necessarily the right view, but I think we should be allowed to hear it."