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Tangatawhenua.Com: When Dissent Becomes Terrorism

First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me. "
- Pastor Martin Niemoller

When Dissent Becomes Terrorism

By Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule

In a series of early morning raids, the New Zealand Police forced entry into the homes of social activists, students, environmentalists, Maori sovereignty activists and trade unionists throughout Aotearoa, confiscating computers and files and arresting 17 people, amongst them Maori leader and Tuhoe freedom activist Tame Wairere Iti, under various firearms and weapons charges. The justification? A pre-emptive strike on suspected terrorists.


The word itself sends apocolyptic shivers up my spine. We were told by the media and alerted by stunned whanau that 300 Police were making simultaneous raids in Auckland, in Hamilton, in Whakatane, in Wellington, in Ruatoki, in Palmerston North, everywhere - all in the name of catching terrorists. The Police and the media started talking publicly about automatic weapons, napalm and molotov cocktails, secret training camps in the Urewera National Park, conspiracies to harm the public through mass terror. It seemed unbelievable. Terrorists were everywhere. 17 people had been arrested, hundreds more raided and the public were told to await the trial, where evidence would be presented to prove beyond doubt that we had terrorists in our midst.

Almost two weeks after those initial raids, we have since been told that at least 14 of the 17 people arrested may face criminal charges under the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002 - STA (only yesterday we heard that 5 of those charged will not face STA charges, the remaining cases are still in the hands of the Solicitor-General). This Act is a series of State-sanctioned directives, used against particular individuals or groups suspected of supporting violent anti-Government forces - it comes largely from the American, British and Australian experiences post-911. Most of those detained remain in custody (at the time of writing, three people had been granted bail yet name suppression on the majority remained) and the country itself seems to be ripping in half.

Again - Terrorists.

On the one side are whanau who agree that action was necessary to avoid future public harm by a small group of trouble-makers; on the other side, we have whanau fearful of further state intrusion, with the harsh judgement of "guilty first, innocent later". To personalise this again, on the one side is Winston Peters and on the other, Dr Pita Sharples. Winston is saying that if the evidence is conclusive, job well done; if not, at least we know - Matua Pita is saying that the raids themselves are unjustifiable and that they are a direct attack on human rights everywhere.

My personal opinion is linked to the opening whakatauki. During my short life time, I have heard about people being bugged by the State because of their political views. I thought they were just being paranoid. Seems like I was wrong. Also was told by my koroua and kuia that it had happened to our Tuhoe people many times before in the past because the Government wanted our Urewera lands and that it would happen again in the present. Seems they were right. As a young activist, I was alarmed that groups and friends I supported and knew were being targeted. Our Maori community was already under-fire for the violence inflicted on Maori children; now the sound of seige had just gotten louder.

While some await the trial of the Urewera 17, others have taken to the streets in protest of the raids and to challenge the justification of the legislation. Tigi Ness, father of Che Fu, took his whanau and music to Ruatoki to play and to start the healing process after such the traumatic experiences faced by them. Tuhoe joined with whanau, hapu and iwi throughout the motu to march, and activists throughout the World linked together to challenge the workings of the Act and the actions of the Police. Solidarity protests have taken place around the world including Australia, Germany, Greece and Canada. In Montreal around 25 people gathered outside the UN Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity on Monday the 22nd of October at lunchtime to denounce the current wave of state terror by the New Zealand Government against Maori sovereignty, peace and environmental justice activists. There have been hikoi in Wellington, Palmerston North, New Plymouth, Rotorua, Whakatane and Auckland. The internet is alive with action, meetings are being held to discuss the implications of the raids and a Constitution of the People and for the People is again being discussed.

The letter sent from Tame Iti to the motu from his Waikeria prison cell is both heart-rendering and soul-stirring (click here for a translation). Dr Paul Buchanan, former CIA consultant and Terrorist specialist, pointed out in an interview given to the NZ Herald, that the Terrorist Suppression Act 2002 was focused on external threats and those who would support it; however we are now seeing it as a "rediretion of the thrust of the act towards domestic terrorist acts" - but this act was NEVER designed to deal with domestic terriorism. It had been argued during the reading of this bill that it would not infringe upon public activism, which most certainly is being done now.

Ironically, New Zealand has recently announced its candidacy for the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, for the period 2009-2012. Just don't anyone mention the International Declaration of Indigenous Rights or these raids.

So what's going on? We'll have to meet back here to find out. My guess is the legal case is slippery, the media circus frenzied and the truth never revealed. As an activist, I am scared for the future as dissent can now be labelled terrorist activity. As a Maori, it is again unfortunate that we collectively carry a divisive issue inside our hearts and minds, As a member of the Tuhoe whanau, when will the State stop detaining our leaders who seek the return the Urewera back to the people from whom it was stolen, and as a New Zealander, I feel ashamed that our country again fails to live up to the ideals and standards it preaches.

All in the name of Terrorism.

Links of interest:


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