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New Zealand's first refugee lawmaker resigns over allegations of shoplifting, charged

New Zealand media alleged that Ghahraman had shoplifted several times from high-end boutiques in Auckland and Wellington before Christmas. Without naming the claims, the lawmaker said her behaviour was due to extreme stress, related to previous trauma, and hurt to her mental health.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Wellington Published on: January 17, 2024 14:47 IST
New Zealand, Golriz Ghahraman, first refugee lawmaker, shoplifting
Image Source : AP Golriz Ghahraman, New Zealand's first refugee lawmaker

New Zealand's first refugee MP Gohriz Ghahraman on Tuesday resigned from her post after allegations surfaced in local media that she had shoplifted several times at local high-end boutiques. Ghahraman, a leader of New Zealand's Green Party and its justice and foreign affairs spokesperson, resigned with immediate effect saying that "stresses relating to my work" led her to act "in ways completely out of character", without naming the allegations.

"People should, rightly, expect the highest standards of behaviour from their elected representatives. I fell short. I'm sorry. It's not a behaviour I can explain because it's not rational in any way, and after medical evaluation, I understand I'm not well," said Ghahraman in a statement on Tuesday. 

"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. With that in mind, I don't want to hide behind my mental health problems, and I take full responsibility for my actions which I deeply regret... The best thing for my mental health is to resign as a Member of Parliament and to focus on my recovery and to find other ways to work for positive change in the world," she added in her statement.

What are the allegations against Ghahraman?

New Zealand media have accused Ghahraman of shoplifting two times at Scotties Boutique in Auckland, and once at Cre8iveworkz in Wellington in the weeks leading up to Christmas. A CCTV footage published on Tuesday appeared to show the 42-year-old lawmaker stealing a handbag from a store in Auckland.

While Ghahraman did not explicitly mention the shoplifting allegations, she said those actions were caused to "extreme stress" and hurt to her mental health. Green Party leaders James Shaw and Marima Davidson said it was clear that Ghahraman is in a state of extreme distress and has worked "tirelessly on behalf of her communities".

“Golriz herself has been subject to pretty much continuous threats of sexual violence, physical violence, death threats, since the day she was elected. There have been police investigations into those threats almost the entire time... if you're living with that level of threat in what is already quite a stressful situation there are going to be consequences," Shaw said earlier.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Police said Golriz Ghahraman had been charged on Wednesday with two counts of shoplifting at a store in Auckland's trendy Ponsonby neighbourhood. “Today, a 43-year-old woman has been summonsed to appear in the Auckland District Court on two charges of shoplifting,” a police statement said. The lawmaker is expected to appear in the Auckland District Court on February 1.

Who is Golriz Ghahraman?

Ghahraman is an Iranian-born, Oxford-educated UN human rights lawyer who sought asylum in New Zealand as a child asylum seeker after the Iran-Iraq war. She made history by becoming the first refugee to become a lawmaker in 2017. According to the party's website, Ghahraman's work has included restoring communities after war and human rights atrocities, particularly empowering women engaged in peace and justice initiatives.

In her first term as MP, Ghahraman was a member of the Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Defence and Education and Workforce Select Committees, and her work included successfully negotiating an end to New Zealand's military deployments in the Middle East and advocating for electoral funding reform. In recent months, Ghahraman was one of the country's most vocal advocates for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

In 2020, she stated that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "Golriz Ghahraman has been the leading voice in Parliament for human rights, truly independent foreign policy, and electoral reform for six years. Her political achievements are significant," said Shaw and Davidson.

(with inputs from agencies)

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