Bruce Hubbard, 38, was remanded on bail, on condition he not go near the building housing the U.S. Consulate-General in downtown Auckland, not email the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, and have no contact with the embassy staffer who laid the complaint.
He faces a charge, under telecommunications legislation, of using a telephone "for the purpose of disturbing, with the intention of offending the recipient."
Hubbard is a member of several left-wing groups, including Global Peace and Justice Auckland (GPJA) and Students for Justice in Palestine.
GPJA says his email to the embassy was intended as a protest against the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The offending passage reads, in part, and in the original spelling: "Drop narparm on babys and kids in Afganistan and Iraq and have invaded 72 other nations since to install U.S. backed military dictatorships to smash popular democratac freedom."
Hubbard told district court Judge David Wilson he had done nothing wrong. "This is a freedom of speech issue," Hubbard said.
Hubbard also objected to the bail condition about not approaching the consulate-general building, saying "that's restricting my freedom."
Hubbard will appear again next month.
In a statement, GPJA said the email "contained some harsh truths for the American government whose attack on Iraq was immoral and illegal."
"Whatever the offence taken in Washington it simply does not register compared to the death and destruction caused by American warmongering in Iraq," GPJA added.
The group accused the New Zealand police of bowing to U.S. political pressure to act against "activists who have been so effective in mobilizing public opposition in New Zealand against American foreign policy."
The embassy has declined to comment on the case.
The Hubbard incident has caused a stir among left-wing groups and commentators, raising suspicions about the timing of the arrest and whether the police were using the email as a pretext to get access to confidential information from Hubbard's computer.
GPJA said the email was sent about six months ago, yet the police did not act until after parliament passed counter-terrorism legislation last month.
Writing on a left-wing website, one commentator suggested the police wanted to use the new laws, and the email incident, to obtain sensitive data.
"Bruce Hubbard is an advocate for a free Palestine," wrote Selwyn Manning. "His computer records would likely provide police with networks of individuals who lawfully go about their work advocating justice for the oppressed."
Manning also wrote that Hubbard had initially refused to attend an interview at a police station because he was "fearful that he may become a New Zealand version of the 'disappeared' like those languishing at Guantanamo Bay."
Another left-wing group, Peace Action Wellington, protested Hubbard's arrest, saying the counter-terrorism legislation was being used to counter free speech.
"The new counter-terrorism legislation is a specific directive from Washington, D.C.," said group member Valerie Morse in a statement.
"Our government is willing to do almost anything to appease the Yanks including arresting its own citizens for nothing more than expressing their opinions," Morse said. "It is likely that Bruce was targeted for arrest and will be used as an example to anyone trying to challenge America's illegal occupation of Iraq."
The Labor-led government of Prime Minister Helen Clark opposed the war in Iraq.
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