A crowdfunding drive has been launched as part of a global support campaign to defend Exit Wellington co-ordinator Susan Austen in the wake of a new charge of aiding a suicide.
Austen, 66, is a Lower Hutt teacher, who was charged in October 2016 with having twice imported the controlled euthanasia drug pentobarbitone.
Austen appeared in the Wellington District Court on Friday facing the new charge of aiding the suicide of Annemarie Treadwell.
The charge of alleged aid was from between December 12, 2015, and June 7, 2016.
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Director of pro-voluntary euthanasia group Exit International Philip Nitschke said the move was prompted by the seriousness of the new charge of aiding a suicide, which has a maximum penalty of 14 years’ jail.
With an initial target of $50,000 the campaign had raised more than $6000 for legal fees on Monday morning through a crowdfunding site.
In tandem with fundraising, Nitschke said the World Federation of Right To Die Societies had been approached to help focus attention on New Zealand.
The Independent Police Conduct Commission launched an investigation into complaints police used a vehicle checkpoint operation – part of what was codenamed Operation Painter – to identify people who had been to an Exit Wellington meeting in early October, 2016.
Nitschke accused this investigation of being a “grubby little anti-Exit witch-hunt.”
Nitschke said the seriousness of the new charge made the drug importing charges seem trivial by comparison.
Austen’s case was likely to gain international traction as it was a stark example of the endemic harassment of pro-euthanasia supporters by the authorities, Nitschke said.
Pleas are expected to be entered to all three charges at Austen’s next court appearance on May 12.