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Communtity Law Manual | Activism | Posters, banners and graffiti

Different types of protests

Posters, banners and graffiti

Posters and banners

Summary Offences Act 1981, s 33

It’s illegal to put up posters, banners or placards on someone else’s property without their permission. This offence is called “billsticking”. The maximum penalty is a $200 fine.

Graffiti

Summary Offences Act 1981, ss 11, 11A

It’s illegal to “damage or deface” any building or other structure (a bridge for example) by writing, drawing, painting, spraying or etching on it, or by marking it in some other way. This offence also covers tagging roads, trees or other property like trains, cars and yachts.

For this offence you can be fined up to $2,000, or given a community-based sentence (like community work or supervision), or both. For more information, including what sentence you could get, see the chapter “Common crimes”, under “Tagging and graffiti”.

If you cause more serious damage when you’re graffiti-ing, the police may decide to charge you with the more serious offence of intentional damage (or “wilful damage”), which has heavier penalties. For details, see the chapter “Common crimes”, under “Tagging and graffiti / Facing heavier charges: Wilful or intentional damage”.

Blindfolding colonial statues

In June 2020, an activist group in Wellington made a peaceful political protest against colonisation and racism by placing blindfolds over the eyes of colonial statues.

As the protest began, the Police told the protestors explicitly that they could go ahead with it. Wellington City Council also commented after the protest that no official action was needed.

Blindfolding a statue hasn’t been specifically considered by the courts, but it seems unlikely that it could be a breach of the criminal laws dealing with “damaging”, “defacing” or “marking” public or private property: see above, “Graffiti”.

Where there was no harm to property and no danger to the protesters installing the blindfolds or any member of the public, legal action would be unlikely.

If the police did bring charges under those laws, then the judge would have to take into account the right to freedom of expression in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. The effect of the Bill of Rights would also be to prevent the judge from extending the meaning of terms like “damaging”, “defacing” and so on in a forced and unnatural way to include blindfolding a statue.

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