Lawyer blasts govt for refusing to let activist speak

By Andrew Stone

Jennifer Robinson, who is part of Julian Assange's defence team, is in NZ briefly with Benny Wenda. Photo / Greg Bowker
Jennifer Robinson, who is part of Julian Assange's defence team, is in NZ briefly with Benny Wenda. Photo / Greg Bowker

A leading human rights lawyer yesterday hit out at a decision banning a West Papua independence activist from speaking at Parliament.

Jennifer Robinson, a member of Julian Assange's defence team, is in New Zealand briefly with Benny Wenda, a leader of the self-determination campaign for West Papua, which is under Indonesian control.

Several MPs wanted Mr Wenda, who lives in exile in London, to speak at Parliament but the new Speaker, David Carter, refused the request.

He reconfirmed his decision yesterday despite a plea from Labour MP Maryan Street, who claimed the decision was made by the Government after advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Speaker's office said the request was declined because the function did not meet guidelines to using parliamentary facilities and hosting guests.

Mr Wenda was expected to speak about alleged human rights abuses in West Papua, and highlight NZ's military relationships with Indonesia.

Miss Robinson said: "It raises very serious questions about the influence Indonesia has on the New Zealand Parliament and the New Zealand Government. To prevent somebody coming to speak - merely to speak and exercise their freedom of expression - in the New Zealand Parliament building of all places ought to be of grave concern to New Zealanders about the influence the Indonesians have in their domestic and foreign policy."

Miss Robinson did not know for certain whether Jakarta would have meddled in the decision, but it made New Zealand seem very reactive to Indonesia's position on hosting a West Papuan refugee. Mr Wenda will now speak today at a seminar at Victoria University on the independence struggle in West Papua.

An Australian, Miss Robinson is based in London and works for several human rights groups. She took part in Mr Wenda's 2002 trial for masterminding a fatal attack on a police station. During the case, Mr Wenda escaped from custody and eventually reached Britain, where he was granted political asylum. He is now a British citizen.

Since 2010, Miss Robinson has been part of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's legal team.

Yesterday she defended Assange's decision to remain holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, saying he faced a real risk of ending up in an American military prison if he left the diplomatic enclave.

There was no guarantee Sweden would not deliver him to the United States, where he could face the death penalty. Once in the US, there was every chance he could end up like alleged WikiLeaks whistle-blower and soldier Bradley Manning, who supporters claim has been subjected to degrading treatment in prison.

Miss Robinson also said she had no intention of abandoning Mr Assange, who has seen several high-profile supporters desert his cause.

The latest was the heiress and magazine editor Jemima Khan, who last Friday washed her hands of Mr Assange, comparing him to an "Australian L. Ron Hubbard" after the Scientology founder.

"We have grave concerns should he ever be returned," Miss Robinson said. Asked if she was hanging in with Mr Assange, she said: "Absolutely."

- NZ Herald

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