Former Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman — a leading voice in Aotearoa New Zealand’s Parliament for human rights, an independent foreign policy, and justice for Palestine — was subject to “pretty much continuous” death threats and threats of violence, says party co-leader James Shaw.
Ghahraman said in a statement today stress relating to her work had led her to “act in ways that are completely out of character. I am not trying to excuse my actions, but I do want to explain them”.
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“The mental health professional I see says my recent behaviour is consistent with recent events giving rise to extreme stress response, and relating to previously unrecognised trauma,” she said.
She said she had fallen short of the high standards expected of elected representatives, and apologised.
In a joint media conference with Green co-leader Marama Davidson, Shaw said Green MPs were expected to maintain high standards of public behaviour.
“It is clear to us that Ms Ghahraman is in a state of extreme distress. She has taken responsibility and she has apologised. We support the decision that she has made to resign.”
Party ‘deeply sorry’
The party was “deeply sorry” to see her leave under such circumstances, he said.
Shaw said that Parliament was a stressful place for anybody.
“However, Golriz herself has been subject to pretty much continuous threats of sexual violence, physical violence, death threats since the day she was elected to Parliament and so that has added a higher level of stress than is experienced by most Members of Parliament.
“And that has meant, for example there have been police investigations into those threats almost the entire time that she has been a Member of Parliament, and so obviously if you’re living with that level of threat in what is already quite a stressful situation then there are going to be consequences for that,” Shaw said.
“And so I have a lot of empathy for you know the fact that she has identified that she is in the state of extreme mental distress.
“Ultimately Golriz is taking accountability for her actions, she’s seeking medical help and she is in a state of extreme distress, that’s where we are at and we support her decision.”
Asked whether the Greens should review how they should support and select MPs, Green co-leader Marama Davidson said the party had a high quality and very robust selection process.
MPs ‘are still human’
“It is also understandable that all MPs across all political parties are still human when they come into politics.
“We will continue to support Golriz through a really distressing time that she is having at the moment and that is a Green Party responsibility also.”
Ghahraman was clearly distressed, Davidson said.
“We know that this is a decision for her to apologise and to resign from Parliament, for her well-being, for her to be able to focus and our responsibility is to make sure she has the support she has needed and to continue to give her aroha and compassion.”
Asked why the Greens did not front up to the situation earlier, Davidson said the Green Party co-leaders needed to seek clarity about the situation before making statements and Ghahraman was still overseas.
“I think people can understand how important it is to have face-to-face and in person conversations with such allegations.
“Also to allow her to have the support that she needs to be able to discuss those allegations.”
Once the co-leaders had received advice and worked out a course of action, Ghahraman returned “at the earliest possible convenience”, Davidson said.
Treatment of women of colour
Davidson said there had been conversations in recent times about the particular treatment of women and women of colour who had public profiles.
“It is incumbent on all political parties and the parliamentary system to be able to support everyone under the pressure of political profiles and the Greens certainly have always taken that seriously to make sure there are avenues for MPs feeling that stress to be able to communicate and seek help.”
Asked whether the co-leaders were aware that Ghahraman was experiencing mental distress before the allegations came to light, Shaw said it would not be appropriate to comment on the mental health condition of one of their colleagues.
“Professional support is available to all of our MPs and we do know that people do access them and we encourage people to access that professional support,” Shaw said.
Davidson said it was a sad day and she was losing a friend and colleague who she had worked with for six years.
“We are here to give aroha and hold her leadership in the portfolio work, kaupapa work that she has often been a lone voice in,” she said.
“We just have aroha and sadness for the value of her kaupapa and for her as a person and she was a part of our team.”
Green caucus support
Shaw said Ghahraman was getting a lot of support for her colleagues in the Green caucus, other Green Party members, as well as from other communities that she is well-connected to.
“And of course most importantly, she’s got professional support as well.”
Davidson said that they would continue to support Ghahraman by ensuring she continued to know “that our aroha and compassion that we are holding that as colleagues, as friends, as women in politics, and that’s really important to us”.
Shaw said Parliament had improved in terms of making support available to MPs over the last few years.
“We strongly encourage our MPs and our staff to access professional support if they feel that they need it and we will continue to do so.”
Shaw said Ghahraman was not looking for an excuse by disclosing her mental health issues and she said she wanted to take full accountability for her actions.
“She’s not looking for an excuse here, she’s trying to sort of seek a reason to explain her behaviour, not to justify it and I think that’s really really important,” Shaw said.
Shaw said pressures on MPs were discussed as a caucus including at monthly staff meetings of senior MPs and staff, at a quarterly weekend meeting, as well as working closely with parliamentary security, police and IT.
Davidson said losing Ghahraman was a big loss but the party would continue to uphold her portfolio areas, legacy and mahi.
Ghahraman was elected on the Green Party list, ranked 7th. She held 10 spokesperson portfolios, including Justice, Defence, and Foreign Affairs.
Her resignation allows the next person on the list to enter Parliament — former Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.