Police censor political website
As discussed on the telephone a short time ago, this is a request from the New Zealand Police to close down the website greencross.org.nz which is hosted by your company.
Why are the NZ Police calling a web-hosting company in order to try to get a website closed down? The email continues:
On Friday 8 July 2011, Mr. McKee was arrested by police and charged with drug dealing offences relating to the sale of cannabis. … Mr. McKee has used the website to facilitate committing these offences against the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.
Site closed down – but comes back
These quotes are excerpted from an email sent by Detective Sergeant Sam Paroli to Openhost, the company that provided hosting for the Greencross domain name. Openhost then instructed the site administrator to stop the service "as soon as possible".
So the Police were successful, they managed to get the website taken down as the result of a phone call and an email.
However, the site administrators then moved the domain name and site to a US-based hosting company and the Greencross website is still available. (Note that while this means that the Police can't strong-arm the hosting company, there is nothing stopping them from charging the site owners if they truly are breaking NZ law.)
Is the Greencross website illegal?
The Greencross website is the online presence of the Medicinal Cannabis Support Group of New Zealand Inc. We have examined the site, which contains:
- articles and information about a variety of ailments that marijuana is effective for
- testimonials from members about how the use of marijuana has given them relief
- links to articles and relevant organisations
- a membership application form
- a call for a change to New Zealand's marijuana laws to make it available for medicinal purposes.
We cannot see anything on the site to indicate that it was being used to facilitate crime. There is nothing on the site that would enable anyone to supply or obtain marijuana. There appear to be no forums where members could arrange their own private deals. Rather, the site is calling for a change in the law to make marijuana available for medical purposes.
To be sure that nothing dodgy was going on, we asked Mr McKee if any changes have recently been made to the website. His response: "No I did not make any changes to the content of the web site."
We also asked Detective Sergeant Sam Paroli in what way the site was illegal, but he refused to answer on the grounds that the matter was before the courts. This would appear to be incorrect as, to the best of our knowledge, no charges have been laid over the website.
Minister of Police
FInally we asked the Minister of Police, Judith Collins, whether she thought that the Police should be involved in trying to censor political websites. She refused to comment, claiming that it was an operational matter and that any questions should be directed to the Commissioner of Police. The Commissioner of Police has not responded to our queries.
Whatever your opinion about using marijuana for medicinal purposes, it seems clear to us that there is nothing illegal about calling for a change in NZ's marijuana laws and that there is nothing illegal about the Greencross website.
We are disturbed that the Police believe they have the power to shutdown a political website. Political speech, like that on the Greencross website, is generally agreed to be so important to our democracy that it is one of the most protected forms of freedom of expression. The actions of the Police are in contravention of the NZ Bill of Rights Act, that guarantees the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.
We hope that this overreach by the Police is an aberration committed by an over zealous police officer and that it will not be repeated.