The NZ Council for Civil Liberties views with concern the reports about NZ Customs stopping Matthew Blomfield at the border to interrogate him about a book manuscript he was carrying with him (original report is in a series of tweets from lawyer Felix Geiringer). We are further concerned with the description of that interrogation in that it appears to have involved the Customs officer making false claims about the extent of their powers.
In particular we are concerned that:
Firstly, that the purpose of stopping and interrogating Mr Blomfield seems to have been for the purpose of enquiring after a book manuscript and, in particular, trying to find out the title and what the book was about. We struggle to see how this could have been for any legitimate customs purpose. Rather it seems like an attempt to collect political intelligence and/or intimidate those involved with the production of the book. As such it is an attack on the right to freedom of expression.
Secondly, it is claimed that Customs threatened Mr Blomfield that they would not allow him through customs and therefore into the country unless he gave them the information they asked for. It is our understanding that Customs have no authority to block New Zealanders from entering the country and, if they do, it is our belief that they should not have this power in accordance with the right to freedom of movement in the NZ Bill of Rights.
Customs has made no substantive comment explaining its actions.
The book has since been released as Whale Oil, by Margie Thomson, an account of the attacks on Matt Blomfield's character from the website Whale Oil run by Cameron Slater.
We believe that this is a serious incident and requires an investigation and some sort of public accounting of what has happened. New Zealanders need to be confident that Customs is not abusing the very significant powers they have at our border.