Would you travel to a part of the world where you know that the authorities have the power to imprison you without a legitimate charge and deny you a fair trial? How about one where they have the death penalty, and it is fairly obvious that they have in the recent past executed innocent people? Or would you feel confident that you could avoid accidentally annoying such a government – if you witnessed some kind of atrocity, say, you could be relied on to leave the country quietly without making a fuss – and would personally be safe enough as a tourist, doing touristy things and turning a blind eye to whatever outrages you might encounter?
I’m certainly not so keen to do so – which is unfortunate, because that rules out an awful lot of the planet.
And, to be fair, it’s also not much of a solution in the long run if everyone just stays home and leaves those stuck living under tyrants to suffer out of sight. That approach doesn’t do much for the cause of change, of reform, either.
So I definitely have the utmost respect for people who go to countries with autocratic regimes that do not respect the rule of law – and that’s a broad list: my definition of “do not respect the rule of law” includes any country where you can be imprisoned, or worse, by the state without a fair trial, because that’s really all unchecked executive power needs to destroy anyone it chooses – in order to assist the cause of change; to help the people such governments have deliberately abandoned and oppressed. To do all this despite knowing their own personal safety is in danger, and taking that risk for a positive purpose.
But I’m not convinced just tottering along as a tourist, looking at the tourist sites, being careful not to look behind the curtain, is all that constructive – and that the risk of something terrible happening with no recourse, a risk which you can never really remove no matter how craven you’re prepared to be, is really worth it.
Not that I’m particularly desperate to go to New Zealand again, either.
ELSEWHERE: Iran jails a blogger for 19 and a half years for daring to criticise the regime. Oh, sorry – “cooperating with hostile states“, “propaganda against the system”, “propaganda in favour of counter-revolutionary groups, “insults to the holy sanctities”, and “the set-up and management of vulgar and obscene websites”. I suppose, given he’s not being murdered by the state, they think they’ve treated him somewhat leniently.