Protesters, who included many schoolchildren and students, carried Maori sovereignty flags and banners in Maori and English. One read, We are not terrorists, we have been terrorised. They delivered a petition of complaint to the local police station.
Using antiterrorism legislation, armed police arrested 17 people across New Zealand October 15. Those arrested include Tame Iti, a prominent and longtime Maori rights campaigner, and other Maori rights advocates. Others detained were peace and environmental activists. Police made a further arrest October 17.
This is the first time police have used the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act. Charges against the 18, however, have so far been laid under the Arms Act. The courts have denied most of them bail and suppressed details of the charges.
Police commissioner Howard Broad alleged at an October 15 media conference that those arrested had engaged in military-style training involving firearms at camps in the Urewera mountain range. He said some guns and ammunition had been seized. Charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act would be considered, he added. Following the raids, police continued to search and question others.
The arrests followed a year-long operation during which the police bugged conversations, tapped phones, intercepted Internet and text messages, and secretly videotaped people. Prime Minister Helen Clark and other senior politicians were briefed prior to the raids, officials told the press.
Police mounted the biggest operation in the Maori settlements of Ruatoki and Taneatua near Whakatane, where Tame Iti and others were arrested. Heavily armed cops set up roadblocks. They stopped and searched cars, trucks, and school buses, and photographed local residents. A police helicopter with a sniper on board flew overhead.
Whakatane and its nearby settlements are on the edge of the isolated Urewera mountains. These are the traditional lands of the Tuhoe people. Local residents point out that they regularly hunt in the mountains with guns and that there are numerous camps in the bush. Many training courses take place there, including in traditional Maori martial arts. Iti is regarded as a knowledgeable teacher of these traditions.
The Maori Party, which has four members of Parliament, criticized the police raids. The Maori families living in my electorate feel unduly harassed, said MP Te Ururoa Flavell in a statement released October 15. He noted that when new antiterrorism legislation was enacted in 2002, Maori predicted it was only a matter of time before it was used against them.
Its not the first time that Maori have been targeted as terrorists, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia told TV reporters. We know some years ago when Maori people went to Cuba they were accused of terrorism [but] nobodys blown up since then.
Pickets calling for the defendants release have been held outside courtrooms in Auckland, Wellington, and Rotorua during bail hearings.
Demonstrations took place in several cities October 20. In Auckland about 250 people rallied in the city and marched on the central police station.
Nationwide protests have been called for October 27. A defense committee has been formed to campaign for the release of those arrested. It can be contacted through its website, www.civilrightsdefence.org.nz.
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