'I shouldn’t have to go to jail': Billy Te Kahika fights prison sentence

Billy Te Kahika. Photo: RNZ
Billy Te Kahika. Photo: RNZ
One-time politician, preacher, and Covid-19 activist Billy Te Kahika is fighting to stay out of prison over a protest that flouted public health measures and rallied against efforts to keep the virus out of New Zealand.

Te Kahika told The New Zealand Herald he could accept a fine or community detention with electronic monitoring, but believed even these would be unfair for what he considered "peaceful protesting".

"Really, I shouldn't get anything at all," he said.

The judge who convicted him had a different view and said Te Kahika deliberately flouted a law created "for the protection of all New Zealanders" during a period when Covid-19 was a "significant threat" to Kiwis.

The protest of about 50 people came after a level 4 lockdown order by then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after a case of Covid-19 was found in the Auckland community.

Te Kahika was convicted in March and sentenced to four months' imprisonment after being found responsible for organising and leading the protest. District court judge Peter Winter said the activist had "exhibited no remorse to the offending other than remorse for himself".

The sentence was appealed to the High Court, and a judgement is expected imminently by Te Kahika.

He told the Herald: "What I'd like to do is get on with my life - be a pastor, have a little business and just get on with life.

Covid-19 - which has killed 6 million people worldwide - remains front of mind for Te Kahika, who is still releasing videos on the pandemic to online followers.

Much of the material relies on discredited theories that argued governments across the world followed bad science to exert control on populations with the aim of manipulating their movements and limiting their freedom.

Te Kahika, who says he has no criminal convictions, told the Herald he didn't want to go to jail and didn't believe he should have to.

"I've spent a lot of my adult life wanting to help the community, certainly not harm it. I don't want to leave my wife and kids for that long," he said, speaking near the family home at Waimamaku in Northland that he shares with wife Corrin and three of his six children, the others being adults.

Te Kahika said he believed the rift in society that occurred during the three years of the pandemic was greater than that caused during the Springbok tour in the 1980s.

"I think the hurt is too deep. I think the resentment is too deep. I think the anger is too broad. I think the loss is too far-reaching for it to just develop a crust and skin over again.

Billy Te Kahika and Jami-Lee Ross. Photo: RNZ
Billy Te Kahika and Jami-Lee Ross. Photo: RNZ
"The segregation within society has been so piercing to the core of the heart of New Zealand that it's not gonna heal over like that. You can't just stitch this up and it's just going to go away."

Te Kahika said the charges he faced should be seen in contrast to the 10,000 people who turned out for the Black Lives Matter protest in Auckland in between lockdowns over which no charges were laid.

He said others who were convicted and jailed were those caught breaking other laws while breaching public health orders.

"Those that did face criminal jail time were those that were [doing] burglary and robbing… which is why they broke level 4. They were out there committing crimes on top of their crimes."

Te Kahika developed a strong following during his town hall roadshow in 2020 that he attempted to take to that year's election alongside former National MP Jami-Lee Ross. The party, Advance NZ, received 28,429 votes and did not make it to Parliament.

His protest actions were highlighted in the Employment Court this week as evidence of the harassment faced by scientist Siouxsie Wiles in her case against the University of Auckland over the level of protection it afforded her against escalating threats and harassment while advocating public health messaging.

A video clip was shown in which Te Kahika and Vinny Eastwood called her "satanic" to online followers and made inflammatory statements about her in a public meeting.

Footage was also shown of Te Kahika and Eastwood filming Wiles in a hotel in Wellington. "Make sure you pay… because you will pay," Te Kahika says in the video.