New Zealand Thought Police confiscate banned books
by Judy Osburn

FEAR Foundation Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1

Fall 2003
posted on FEAR website 4/10/2004
(c) 2003 FEAR Foundation.  Reprinting for distribution without charge, and republication permitted if article is printed in its entirety without editing, and attribution is given to FEAR Foundation Journal, Forfeiture Endangers American Rights Foundation, 20 Sunnyside Suite A-419, Mill Valley, CA 94941. 

While US forfeiture laws call for seizure and forfeiture of "all books, records, and research, including formulas, microfilm, tapes, and data which are used, or intended for use, in violation" of drug laws, the Drug Enforcement Agency has only occasionally used this authority to undermine Americans’ freedom of speech privileges.

Although the name of New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification "is classic Orwellian doublespeak," Russ Kick, of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, points out, "the title of the agency’s head is hilariously forthright: Chief Censor of Film and Literature."

The New Zealand agency’s website explains its mission: "Each time the Classification Office makes a classification decision it must consider whether the availability of that particular publication is likely to be injurious to the public good. …Under the Classification Act, the Classification Office is deemed to exercise expert judgment when making these decisions."

Moving images such as movies and video games are the only form of media that must be viewed, judged, and labeled prior to release. All others may be published without passing through the censorship process, however, the Office warns: "these publications must still comply with the law. In this case, the onus of responsibility rests on the person who intends to supply a publication to ensure that he or she is supplying it appropriately. As one option, a person can choose to submit the publication for classification."

In actuality, the buyer must beware. New Zealand Customs agents bring Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to life.

"Jack-booted firemen" knock at the door.

The Setters never anticipated the science fiction scene that followed their order of a copy of Psychedelic Chemistry from an online catalogue. Instead of the book they purchased from Loompanics Unlimited, five Customs agents arrived at their door at 6:30 am on February 1, 2002.

John Setter said that when asked the reason for the search warrant, "the one in charge asked us if we knew a company called Loompanics and mentioned the book Psychedelic Chemistry, ordered in my name, as the cause for the raid." The agents seized six other books and a computer from the Setters. The government searched all the Setters’ mail for two months after the raid, resulting in confiscation of a Loompanics catalogue, as it purportedly "contains some books that are ‘objectionable’."

Daniela Setters remarked about New Zealand’s science fiction style reality of book burning troopers invading her house: "We thought such deprivation of freedom of information only still occurs in communist, Muslim, and Third World countries, but we were so bloody wrong!"

On Feb. 27, 2003 the Turanga District Court fined John Setters $6000 ($2680 US) for eight Customs and Excise Act violations–a high cost of his passion for the study of ancient cultures, Shamanism and ancient drug use in religious rituals. Defense counsel Craig Tuck argued that five of the eight books were gardening related. "The implication of sentence has an impact on all the citizens of this country." Tuck stated this prosecution means New Zealanders "can’t read about a whole genus of mushrooms and can’t read about ancient religions."

John Setters commented outside the courtroom about the dangerous precedent set by his convictions, wondering if "in 1000 years will it be illegal to have a Bible?"