Anonymous NZ group set up to combat racism praised by Amnesty International

Source: 1News

Freedom of speech is not an absolute if it harms or terrifies another person's life, Amnesty International New Zealand executive director Meg de Ronde says.

Her comments come as this morning an anonymous group, called the Manaaki collective , is being launched. The people behind the group are remaining anonymous in order to keep themselves and their families safe.

With hate speech, death threats, threats of violence so explicit, some New Zealand homes, including families with children, have evacuation plans in place in case someone arrives to carry out those threats.

Breakfast host John Campbell spoke to a woman at the weekend, who's identity is being kept secret, who has children trained in how to remain silent and how to disappear if someone comes to her house with the intent of causing violence.

"It's horrific, it's absolutely horrific, and similar to you I listened to her story, I've got two young children myself and I can't imagine having to have that conversation here in New Zealand," de Ronde told Campbell this morning.

"We work around the world with people that face this fear, but to hear somebody in New Zealand say 'we have had death threats, we know that people live close to our homes, we know that these people have guns and access to weapons and we know that these were similar concerns that people had prior to March [15]."

Fifty-one Muslims were killed by a lone-gunman at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019, while they prayed. Many more were injured in the attacks.

Also on Breakfast this morning, Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said: "We know that hate kills."

Foon said he sees racism, mainly online, predominantly targeting Māori, Jewish and Muslim people. 

But de Ronde said freedom of speech wasn't an excuse for such racist rhetoric.

"We're about to have this big debate, we're about to have this hate speech debate, and I lead a human rights organisation, and people like to use freedom of expression, the right to freedom of expression, as a claim to silence others," she said.

"Freedom of expression is not an absolute right, you are entitled to put limits on it if that freedom of expression harms others' rights. So if you see people terrified for their life, if you see people who are inciting others to hurt them then that is a legitimate limit to freedom of expression.

"We won't stand by and see rights discourse used to harm others."

De Ronde said she is backing the work by the Manaaki Collective, which on its website claims to be a place for "safe discussions and work can take place towards Tiriti justice, racial justice, environmental justice and social justice".

"I think the Manaaki Collective is really important for theoretical and practical reasons, so Amnesty International is supportive of the Manaaki Collective and we think they've done an amazing job at putting forward why they need support," de Rode said.

"They talk really explicitly about practical needs - psychological help, security cameras, the risk assessments that they're getting done - they need this here in New Zealand and they need people to stand with them.

"They've explicitly said they need people who aren't people of colour or who aren't from marginalised communities, like myself, like big organisations, to say 'this isn't okay'."

Meg de Ronde.