Minister William Sio 'distressed' by anti-terror law submitter's March 15 remarks

A minister has described comments made by a submitter on the proposed anti-terror law currently going through Parliament as "distressing" and "terrible".

Pacific Peoples Minister William Sio was one of eight MPs hearing submissions on the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill, a law that would allow control orders to be imposed on suspected terrorists returning to New Zealand.

The second submitter on the legislation, a man called Simon Field, told the Foreign Affairs Committee the law could be dangerous because of the "blurred" distinction between political activists and terrorists.

He said the word "terrorist" had "been used quite freely" since the 9/11 attack on New York - a label Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately gave the accused Christchurch shooter. 

Field's remarks prompted Sio, a Labour MP, to ask him: "The March 15 massacre, how do you describe that? Would you describe it as a terrorist event?"

The submitter replied, "No, not really... It's a difficult thing."

Sio became visibly frustrated by Field's response, pushing his microphone away from him and gasping in disbelief.

Field acknowledged the Christchurch shootings would have been "terrorising for Muslims, so maybe that is the definition of terrorism... maybe it has brought terror to Muslims".

When Field finished his submission, Sio told him his response was "terrible".

Sio told Newshub he felt like Field had "attempted to justify what happened" in Christchurch.

He said all he could think about during Field's remarks was how the Christchurch shooter "killed children, women, men, in their most sacred of places, and I couldn't believe that he failed to see that".

Field, who described himself as a UK-born registered nurse who immigrated to New Zealand in 1985, had begun his submission by discussing his friend who was a British political activist for nuclear disarmament.

He said his friend was a peaceful protester, but that her house was eventually raided by the police, which he said "traumatised" her and was "emotionally damaging".

"I just think there should be care and consideration in how to define what a terrorist is and that it isn't used against people with minority views in politics."

Field then spoke of the March 15 Christchurch terror attack, highlighting his concerns about "information being gathered about people", suggesting it could be used unfairly.

The proposed law would give police the ability to apply to the High Court to impose control orders, or restrictions, on New Zealanders suspected of engaging in terrorism overseas - ultimately leaving it up to a judge.

The Bill was introduced after the "Kiwi Jihadist" Mark Taylor - a New Zealander who lived with Islamic State extremists in Syria for around five years - said he wanted to return home after surrendering to local forces and being jailed in a Kurdish prison.

The prospect of his return became more of a possibility when it was recently reported hundreds of Islamic State prisoners escaped from a detention facility in Syria's northeast.

Field didn't mention Taylor in his submission, nor did he discuss white supremacy. But he did say there are politically-motivated groups with "anarchist" ideas that he doesn't think will necessarily engage in terrorist activity.

"There's a very clear distinction between a political activist and a terrorist... but it has become blurred… My friend's experience of being labelled a terrorist and her house being invaded is a good example of that." 

Similar human rights concerns have been raised by Privacy Commissioner John Edwards who described the proposed anti-terror law on Tuesday as an "affront to the principles of due process".

The Law Society is recommending that if the Bill is to proceed, it should be subject to review in five years.