IRREPRESSIBLE SPEECH MEETS INSURMOUNTABLE BARRIER
1 August 2008
Businessman and publisher Vince Siemer stands defiantly against what he claims is an unlawful order of the New Zealand High Court; a stance which today resulted in Justices Lester Chisholm and Warrick Gendall ordering an arrest warrant for Siemer and a six month prison sentence.
On 8 July 2008, Chisholm and Gendall ordered Siemer to remove unspecified articles from websites www.stiassny.org and www.kiwisfirst.co.nz. The judges claimed the websites breached a gag injunction granted Auckland insolvency practioner Michael Stiassny when he filed defamation proceedings against Siemer in April 2005. Stiassny has failed to advance the defamation case and no trial date has been set. Siemer has refused to make any changes to the website, saying he had already taken the extraordinary action of proving the accuracy of his reporting to the Court of Appeal in February 2007. In an appeal of the 8 July judgment he filed with the Court of Appeal earlier this week, Siemer’s grounds included the judges’ ‘utter failure’ to cite the injunction terms supposedly breached, as well as any words or phrases on the website which are alleged to be in breach.
In a related matter, the Court of Appeal on Monday upheld a High Court ruling from last year that exempted Stiassny from trial discovery and struck out Mr Siemer’s statement of defence to the defamation claim. Siemer intends to take that appeal to the Supreme Court next week.
Mr Siemer is currently in the U.S. on business and not expected back in Auckland until early September. The order today means he will be arrested and taken to prison upon landing. TVNZ business reporter Owen Poland reached Siemer by phone immediately after the pronouncement and asked if he was intending to be a martyr. Siemer responded no; that he realised most people did not care. He added, ‘Many of my own supporters have said I am crazy to stand up for rights few care about, but I tell them it is crazy I should have to go to prison to protect our rights.’
Earlier this week, Mr Siemer filed a complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 14.7 and 19.2. His appeal of the 8 July 2008 judgment to the NZ Court of Appeal includes a request for a stay of the prison term pending the appeal. No word from the Appeal Court yet as to when this might be heard.