'Humiliation': New Zealand Muslims' rights breached by authorities, Human Rights Foundation reveals

An investigation into how Muslims in New Zealand are treated by authorities has revealed their rights were often breached and were made to feel "humiliated". 

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) interviewed more than 20 Muslims in New Zealand in 2016 about their experiences dealing with authorities such as Customs, police and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS).

The findings revealed that Muslims in New Zealand did not know their rights when dealing with authorities, and did not have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, such as what they should and should not post on social media.

"The community has been unclear about the line between sharing current affairs (such as YouTube videos of atrocities), which is usually lawful, and objectionable (banned) material," the report said.

It found that there were fears within the Muslim community in New Zealand about the consequences of discussing or sharing issues of current affairs, for fear of being targeted by authorities.

There were concerns within the Muslim community, particularly among parents who worried about their children encountering problems with authorities because they may not know that their behaviour or activities were questionable.

The investigation also revealed that during informal chats held between NZSIS officers and Muslims, they were not told their rights.

"Interviews are chat, chat, chat, [and] then at the end they brought in his Facebook post, didn't expect it... felt very shocked. That is when it hit me - they are here for me, you fit the profile," one person said of their interaction.

Faisal Al-Asaad, one of the researchers, said some Muslims interviewed by the NZSIS felt they were being pressured into spying on their own communities.

"The pressure was to convey to the SIS what kind of culture there was and whether people felt like there was any kind of threat of so-called extremist Islamic ideology circulating," he told RNZ. 

Others mentioned "ehana" or "humiliation" when discussing their return to New Zealand from overseas. The research found that most interviewees felt unprepared for interactions with Customs officials and no attempt was made to inform them of their rights.

"The reality is you are powerless, they [the NZSIS] can do whatever they want," one person told the HRF.

Another said: "After 9/11 things were really bad, people were very suspicious and angry, and then things improved. People realised Muslims were a community and things improved. But the rise of ISIS and Trump has fired things up again."

The HRF has now published pamphlets for Muslims to inform them of their rights when dealing with authorities. The pamphlet says the NZSIS "cannot arrest, detain or charge you" and that people "have the right not to feel threatened". 

While some Muslims interviewed felt there was no need for the HRF's investigation, others did not wish to be seen criticising the authorities in New Zealand. And some were "too fearful to participate" as they did not want to be "stigmatised".

The HRF decided to undertake the informal study of Muslim experiences in New Zealand to develop some recommendations to protect them. They held closed-door meetings with multiple agencies in 2017 and 2018 to disclose the information.  

The findings are particularly relevant now that Justice Minister Andrew Little said he's considering an inquiry into security agencies such as the NZSIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks.

There has been criticism intelligence agencies have been too focused on the potential threat from Islamist extremists, and blind to that posed by the far-right. Little has said the inquiry will test whether security agencies had "organisational blind spots" to a white supremacist. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last week that security agencies had started monitoring alt-right threats nine months ago; however, neither the NZSIS nor GCSB had any intelligence about the 28-year-old who was charged over the Christchurch massacre.