New law to impose restrictions on 'high-risk' New Zealanders involved in terrorism

Justice Minister Andrew Little.
Justice Minister Andrew Little. Photo credit: Getty

A new law proposed by the Justice Minister, and supported by National, would impose restrictions on returning New Zealanders involved in terrorism. 

The Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill gives the police the ability to apply to the High Court to impose control orders, or restrictions, on New Zealanders who have engaged in terrorism overseas. 

It was developed in response to the situation in Syria, where over the weekend hundreds of Islamic State prisoners reportedly escaped from a detention facility in the country's northeast. 

Justice Minister Andrew Little said on Wednesday the new law will apply to any situation in which a New Zealander is "directly engaged in terrorism overseas, or facilitated or supported others to do so". 

Little added, "Control orders will only ever be imposed on a very small number of people. This Bill is about being prepared should any high-risk New Zealander return home pending any prosecution for their offending."

He said the conditions imposed by the High Court will be "carefully tailored to the individual's personal circumstances, risks, and rehabilitative needs".  

"Conditions will be imposed to reduce the immediate risks to public safety, and to support the person's de-radicalisation and reintegration into New Zealand society."

Little said the more serious the risk, the more restrictive the conditions are likely to be. 

National leader Simon Bridges said the proposed law has his party's support, and he is putting forward a number of recommendations. 

  • Lowering the age limit for control orders to those aged 14 years and over
  • Increasing the maximum duration of control orders
  • Removing the financial penalty increasing the term of imprisonment to five year
  • Ensuring the control orders will capture those convicted of a terrorist offence in New Zealand
  • A new provision to allow police to detain returnees if necessary 

"These changes would strengthen the legislation to be more in line with Australia's laws and reflect the serious risk posed by terrorist activity," Bridges said. 

"National wants to send a strong message that terrorism won't be tolerated and that we need to protect our communities at all costs."

The law might affect Mark Taylor, known as the "Kiwi Jihadist", a New Zealander who lived with IS extremists in Syria for around five years, and earlier this year surrendered to local forces and was jailed in a Kurdish prison. 

Taylor has said he wants to return home, but the Government has been reluctant to offer that - an approach other Western governments have taken when their citizens have succumbed to IS propaganda. 

Under international law, it is forbidden that governments make people stateless by revoking their citizenship if they don't have dual citizenship. 

But in some cases, where an individual holds two nationalities, governments have refused to let citizens return based on their affiliation to terror groups.  

A high-profile case in the UK revolved around Shamima Begum who, in 2015 at the age of 15, left the UK for Syria where she married an IS member and lived with the group. 

The British Government's Home Office said it believed the young woman was eligible for citizenship in Bangladesh, so she was not allowed to return to the UK