Covid-19 conspiracy theorist and failed political candidate Billy Te Kahika has been sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for illegally organising and attending a protest on the first day of New Zealand’s nationwide Delta variant lockdown.
“He sought financial support for his actions and he was the one with the most to gain by way of publicity and notoriety for the breach,” Judge Peter Winter said today as he sentenced Billy TK, whose full name is William Te Kahika, and co-defendant Vincent Eastwood.
Eastwood was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.
There were numerous outbursts in the courtroom as the men were led away to a holding cell
“The only crime here today…” one woman started to say as security intervened and the courtroom was cleared.
“You know coronavirus in the common cold. Disgusting,” another woman said as she left.
A short time later, with only the men’s partners allowed to remain in the gallery, Judge Winter allowed the men to remain on bail while their convictions and sentences are appealed.
Violating the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act carries a punishment of up to six months’ jail and a $4000 fine.
The duo spent three days in court in August for a judge-alone trial during which they both testified. Judge Winter allowed a lengthy adjournment so both sides could submit written legal arguments, focusing in part on whether the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act allowing freedom of assembly to protest should have superseded the lockdown order.
A senior police officer testified during the trial that Te Kahika called him on the first morning of the lockdown to let law enforcement know he was planning a protest of 200 to 300 people outside TVNZ headquarters in central Auckland that day.
“He was advised it was against the health order and he was liable to be arrested,” the officer testified. “He told me it was his right to protest.”
TK then posted a series of live videos on Facebook in which he encouraged people to show up to the protest. In one social media post, the judge noted, TK “advanced various theories now commonly accepted to be conspiracy theories as his reason for being present in contravention of the level 4 lockdown regulations”.
Despite warnings from police, TK testified he was surprised by his arrest because he believed freedom of speech and assembly should have taken precedence over lockdown orders.
Eastwood, an online broadcaster who had been travelling with TK when the lockdown was announced, also posted on social media encouraging people to turn out for the protest.
“No retreat and no surrender,” Eastwood said in one of the videos, which he later dismissed as theatrics to garner more attention on social media. “That is Spartan law. And by Spartan law, we will stand … and fight.”
Video footage played repeatedly during the evidence phase of the trial showed him yelling through a megaphone with an increasingly desperate-sounding tone for fellow protesters to surround him and “protect” him as police approached in an effort to hand him a letter advising him the gathering was illegal.
He was terrified of police, he testified, describing his arrest that day and the panic attacks that followed as “the most traumatic experience I have ever suffered in my entire life”. The duo spent 28 hours in jail before they were released on bail the next day to await trial.
Judge Winter found today that Eastwood performed more of a support role so had less culpability.