In a huge victory for press freedom, New Zealand’s High Court has ruled decisively in favor of independent journalist Nicky Hager in his case against the New Zealand government for raiding his house and seizing his family’s possessions in 2014.
The court’s decision, which was released on December 17, 2015 just before the holidays, is not only a vindication for Hager and his work, but an important win for all journalists and whistleblowers in New Zealand.
You might recall that in October of 2014, Freedom of the Press Foundation crowd-funded over $23,000 for Hager’s legal defense, given the outrageous raid on his house was for nothing more than doing a job as his journalist. Here’s how we described the background of the case then:
Hager recently wrote an explosive book entitled Dirty Politics based on an anonymous source in the lead-up to New Zealand’s most recent election. The book showed how Prime Minister John Key’s administration was feeding information to a far right-wing blog in an attempt to smear its opponents. The New Zealand Herald called the book “an election bombshell” and its revelations led to the resignation of New Zealand’s Justice Minister at the end of August.
But just days after recent Key’s re-election, Hager’s home was raided by New Zealand police for ten hours. "Soon after the police arrived, the lead detective stated that I was not a suspect in their case, merely a witness," Hager said in a statement on October 6th. Yet the police “seized a large collection of papers and electronic equipment belonging to my family, including computers, drives, phones, CDs, an IPOD and a camera."
At the time, Hager was also working on stories based on the Snowden documents and in partnership with the Intercept about the relationship between the NSA and New Zealand’s intelligence services. As Intercept journalist (and one of our founding board members) Glenn Greenwald wrote, “While there is no evidence that Hager’s work on NSA documents was a factor in the raid, it is possible that authorities knew or suspected that he had been given access to some of those documents.” Greenwald continued:
Whether or not Hager’s work with The Intercept may have partially motivated the raid, the situation underscores the dangers of using invasive law enforcement tactics against reporters—they impede the reporting process, render source relationships very difficult to protect, and offer the very authorities that reporters are attempting to hold accountable a window into their ongoing reporting.
We couldn’t agree more. Nicky sent us this statement on his court victory and reminded everyone that the court battle is not over yet:
I am very grateful to everyone who gave money, and with it moral support, in the biggest fight of my life to protect sources. I am pleased to report it is going well. We have just won the most important court case, on the police search of my home, and are now challenging the police efforts to identify my sources by non-warranted searches of my bank, on-line and travel data. Thank you for joining me in this fight.
We’d like to join Nicky in thanking all of the people who donated to support his legal defense. Often, press freedom does not come easy, and he has showed why it's important to always continue the fight.