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Urewera 4 Day 20: We can't have freedom without agitation

Operation 8: Day 20, March 14th
'We can't have freedom without agitation.'

by Annemarie Thorby

Wednesday began with Christopher Stevenson addressing the jury on behalf of his client, Urs Signer. He began by speaking about the role of activists in the world.

'Democracy needs people like Urs Signer. Urs Signer and people like him keep democracy honest. You can't believe in freedom, you can't subscribe to it without accepting there will be some form of agitation. Protest and social activist have a long and noble history.'

'We can't have freedom without agitation.'

'Someone else said, you can't expect the crop without ploughing the ground.'

Powerful Evidence

'Urs Signer is a believer and a very young believer. At the time of the start of Operation 8, he was a believer in social justice and in the best of humanity. He believed there can be a world without poverty, a world without inequality and war.'

'Urs Signer didn't put his head in his hands and say the troubles in the world were too great. He got out and did something, and he remains very much that person.'

'He was and is a young believer in human spirit and the capacity of human potential.'

'He believes peace can prevail. These are not my lawyer words, but words proved from his persistent conduct.'

'Urs Signer is a member of Peace Action Wellington, he is a man of peace and unity according to Ruakere Hond...a gentle and caring human being according to other witnesses...powerful evidence of the traits of this young man.'

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'Burning people and schools – murder and mayhem – Urs Signer? Does that make any sense to you?...Does the proposition sit easily with what you have heard about Urs? I suggest not at all.'

Caution Against Suspicion

'I started this trial talking about the danger of suspicion. It breeds more and more and finds its own proof...If you suspect enough, you find your own frame because that is your frame of mind.and that poisoned this process here. This process.'

'What is required of you, with the greatest respect, is cool, calm application of common sense...that is what the criminal trial is all about.'

'If you are unsure about an allegation or proposition – then the person is have caution against suspicion that runs out of control and warps our facts.'

'So when, at the outset of this case, the Crown talked about guerrilla warfare, about burning schools and churches, burning human flesh...the Crown bred suspicion to put that in context...Words at the beginning that were carefully chosen to produce a visceral reaction, a gut feeling. Deliberately chosen by the Crown...that must have produced quite a reaction in you.'

What is central to Urs Signer?

'Well what are the facts you know about Urs Signer? I will begin by recapping his witnesses.'

'Dugal McKinnon was the first witness. A quiet, young music professor – a very particular and careful gentleman, who described Urs Signer as gentle and caring of people around him...Dugal McKinnon was not some ring in. He is an independent man, very intelligent.'

'He was shown by us the images and the scenario document. He retained his image of Urs – someone who is gentle and caring for those around him. He vouched for Urs Signer and his character. It's true that he formed a bond with Urs, but that tells you Urs Signer is a pretty impressive young man...'

'At the end of the day, Dugal McKinnon came in and gave that evidence and it was powerful.'

'Similarly Ruakere Hond came in with the support of Parihaka...he knew Urs through hard work and also knew him through 2006 and 2007, the relevant period...Urs was driven by the concept of peace and unity and working together...Urs was at the International Peace Festival in 2006. He had a stall about peace. He attended again in 2007, right before the camp in Ruatoki.'

'So what is central to him? It is railing against war, it is for peace, for the peace festival... he is driven by a concept of peace and unity driven together...The ignominy for him, he who in a very mature way devoted his life to peace....'

'Ruakere Hond had also seen the images and the scenario had not changed his view...It was put to him by the Ccrown that living in Parihaka was only to get good face...but he retained his view...'

'He was challenged in cross-examination about Urs throwing a Molotov cocktail. But that is not right anyway. And it didn't change his view of Urs Signer...he could not be shaken. Just like Dugal McKinnon.'

'They've seen what you have seen, but they know Urs Signer. They speak to his tendencies, his tendencies not to be violent...'

'What Urs Signer was doing in Taranaki...and with the roading difficulties in particular...What did he do? He started a petition. Climate issues – he is a young father now. It is difficult to do something about issues, but Urs has energy...the sort of energy to keep democracy honest.'

'We might think that activists, that they are slightly on the fringes. But there is a real noble history of this effective change...women’s rights for example...You can't have freedom without these contributions striving for good.'

'The greatest contribution to Parihaka is his garden...and that is part of his life – if you look at the photos of the place he was staying at in Ruatoki. In the photo is a garden...This theme continues and his car at Ruatoki has books, that included native trees, sea-shore life, birds, ferns and native animals of NZ. It is an example of the consistency of his life.'

'And finally Dave Moskovitz.'

'He was a pretty impressive individual. ...oozes integrity and judgement... I didn't know about all his qualifications. I felt pretty small. He writes dictionaries, he's a leader in his synagogue, a start-up fund backer, and he is involved in music. And he stood there to attest to you, the fundamental good character of Urs Signer.'

'Wasn't he a pretty wise person? Didn't he have an enormous and wide world view? He'd seen the images and the scenario document. What did he say?...Urs Signer is very concerned about the world around him and social justice, and wants to make the world a better place and people to understand each other...'

'Imagine having people being able to say something like that about you? And he did about Urs Signer. Quite impressive for a young man...'

'The language of violence, said Mr Moskovitz...violence, it never entered our conversations...they were all about changing peoples' minds. Urs Signer would not put himself in place to hurt people.'

'Mr Moskovitz was an independent person who travelled here...'

'The band that Urs was part of, among other things played in Christchurch and for an Indian orphanage. They also played in Parliament for Rod Donald's memorial...'

'Well, I will wrap really need to reject it if you are going to convict Urs Signer. You have been asked to believe that he joined in this criminal group with objectives of committing serious and violent offences...To do need to cast of this evidence. You need to reject can you do that and still hold those things?...'

'If the evidence raises in your mind a reasonable doubt, you must not convict...What is a reasonable doubt? It is something in your own is what makes you hesitate because you are not sure...'

'If not, if that doesn't cause you to hesitate...then I think he never had a chance...but I am sure that is not so...'

'Living Out his Life Admirably'

'Urs Signer appears to immerse himself in New Zealand culture, indigenous Maori culture....You recall me from time to time asking about Ruatoki...If you are a young person, a young Pakeha, that is a good place for people to go learn te Reo...He was motivated in going there to immerse himself in culture. And it is a place that the Waitangi Tribunal say of the few places in New Zealand that Maori culture dominates...'

'So for a young man in a foreign land, with a Maori partner, wanting to belong. Someone who has an enquiring mind,someone who is curious. What's a good place to go? Ruatoki.'

'It was an immersion in that world.'

'In the early days at university he was speaking Maori...he was displaying empathy for social justice...for Louise Nichols...'

He does what some of us don't do, we don't sit down and contemplate until we are a but older...but that is what it's about. Immersion...maybe it's something we can take away from this case. Maybe we want to immerse ourselves in a culture and a world we know only a little about.'

'So immersion...this is not some theory dreamed up to get him out of some tricky situation. This is the truth. He was immersing himself in Maori culture...He was up there and being part of a community...'

'So when everything in the world turned upside down, and you have been given limited evidence about that overall day – there were over 300 police...Aaron Pascoe was cross-examined about that. This was an enormous event and there have been ruminations ever since...'

'It changed the world for Urs Signer, too. But it didn't change his way...his immersion in Maori. His peaceful outlook on life...He has an established continuum of peace and unity. He is trying to make the world a better place...It is about immersion.'

'Urs Signer and Emily Bailey have lived their truth. They now live in Parihaka, a place founded on peaceful existence. That is not something done to trick you – they were in there in 2006 running a peace stall. Emily is whakapaped to that place. Urs was invited...and he speaks te Reo...Found in the back of his car was a waananga perspective. Books about these sort of things...'

'Revolutionary change is not a part-time thing...But what you see in Urs, is someone making the world a better place. Someone living out his life admirably.'

'Spying on Legitimate Dissent'

'The other thing about this time period. It is regrettable – he was closely watched.'

'There was the revelation of spying on legitimate dissent. The police officer, John Fagan confirmed it, and also Detective Sergeant Brian Woodcock from the Wellington CIB confirmed it...It is pretty regular.'

'And the SIG had Rob Gilchrist – an email requesting information on the Auckland Animal Action, Aotearoa ALF, the Vegan Balaclava Pixies, anti-war, anti-American groups, and others. There were intelligence notes on Urs Signer going back to 2005.'

'Where are the reports of violence? That…he got a conviction for obstruction and was fined $150...A fine for getting in the way...a passive resistance.'

'All I can suggest to you, is the overwhelming picture of this young man...He, in to murder and mayhem?...

The Safety Net

'You've got to get it right – you can't wake up the day after, or a week, or ten years later and look to your loved one in bed and say 'Crikey, we might have got that wrong'. That can't happen. You must be sure before you convict, and that would mean casting aside all you know about Urs Signer...cast it away at your peril.'

'It's worthwhile just pausing to say something further about juries...If people like Urs Signer keep democracy honest, the jury are the lungs. The state can't bring serious criminal allegations against people, they can't pluck citizens out of the community...The jury is the screen and the safety net. The check that ensures that oppressive prosecutions are checked.'

'So, you do stand between a fellow citizen and this allegation. You provide a safeguard, which it is said shouldn't be ever given to one man or woman. It should be given to twelve anonymous people who come together in a brief moment of time and do their duty and then go on with their lives. And like juries before and after, you will do the same thing. And it protects all of us from over the top misguided prosecutions.'

'Snippets of Information'

'Now to some of the points about evidence...and as I've written it here, problem of evidence.'

'Where are the texts and information between Urs Signer and Tame Iti, Urs Signer and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, Urs Signer and Tuhoe Lambert. Where are the texts about serious violent offences?'

'Where is the secrecy that might you expect here?...'

'You will recall my assistant, Liz Hall, cross-examining some of the witnesses. Yes, Urs Signer had the details of the co-accused in his contact list. He had 1000s of them there. He wasn't acting in a secretive way, was he?'

'Where is the evidence of global warfare? The object of such serious criminal offending? Urs Signer did not speak for such things, and against that you have his proven conduct I've spoken about.'

“What you have had from the outset, is snippets of information that you have to grapple with.'

'What is the problem with snippets of information? Ask Colin Powell...You recall he went to the UN in 2003 and said here are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq...some people believed it and war assumed and tens of thousands died...some said he had not the fill picture...and they accepted that later...'

'You have snippets of information, and you have been asked to take a leap of faith. A leap into the world of a criminal group, based on snippets of information...'

'You ask Colin Powell today of the problem of proceeding on not the full picture. It was an inglorious end to his career.'

'Here we have snippets – you heard no audio for much of what we have seen.'

'You were given a picture of Tame Iti and Urs together in Wellington for example. To suggest that they were there to discuss war and other things...But when we asked, Tame Iti was down there for a High Court court-case...It was only a snippet of information...'

'Tuhoe Lambert and some of his comments...He was over 60 and had no convictions. He is not here to defend himself, but you been asked to believe them...Was he the sort of person given to rhetoric or only said what he believed? He served his country. You know, inflammatory rhetoric and grandiose statements are not new. And it wouldn't be the first time people attached themselves to it, and it turns out to be all air. This is another example of snippets.'

'With Urs Signer, snippets were taken of his life in Ruatoki. And extracted from that were serious and violent offences.'

'Another example...some communications involving Urs Signer and Mr Kemara: Urs to Mr Kemara: How much are the bullets? Mr Kemara: cost Urs: Get me three packets...'

'At that point the Crown said enough and put down the book to the witness...At that point you could say it was straight forward...he was arming himself...'

'Then I carried on asking about the rest of the conversation and we discover ducks and rabbits...but isn't that an example of broken down communication?'

'More than that, another example a couple of days earlier: Urs: some gossip I shot a rid of all the feathers, cooking it tomorrow.'

'That is a striking example, you have been asked to convict Urs Signer...and you have been asked to do it on broken down information.'

'The search of 128 in Wellington...Constable Vining was questioned...and I went through with him questions on one of the exhibits...we got him to confirm he had written on the document found, 'War Document'. We opened it and there were articles. On the first page an article called 'Actions Against the USNZ Forum', then 'Starving for Justice ', 'No One is Illegal ', and on the last page, 'Death of a staunch Maori Revolutionary '.'

'So they told you that they found a war document in Urs Signer properties, it is like buying the ammo...It is an example of two things, snippets of info. Of paranoia, dare I go that far. Those things can infect and poison your view...'

'The military expert was asked to look at the clips...and asked about the clips: 'You can't tell what they are doing?' 'Certainly can' would be totally subjective of me'...'

'Finally the brothers, but Urs wasn't there...He wasn't at the Pa for the conversation...If you take a little snippet it is terrible, but if you take the big picture, it shows training, kick-boxing and a raging argument about the benefits of being vegetarian or not...So there was talk of lifestyle.'

'Like Tamati Kruger can be taken in a strange way...when he was talking about tikanga...'

'It is a patchwork game.'

'Cut Through the Fog'

'Now the scenario document. In a way it's good that it was found. For Urs Signer, none of this was real...This was a little map about Ruatoki. It wasn't about some plan to do something in a suburban centre or about guerilla warfare...It was a game...This was found in a car where in the boot was a waananga prospective. So Urs had an objective. He had an objective of moving on in his life...It was about Ruatoki. It was not real. What is real, is what you know about Urs Signer and his motivation. Which was not to do serious and violent offences.'

'So I urge you to take great caution with that document. This, in a way, is held up as the central thesis in the case against Urs Signer. But it is not actually consistent with the Crown case...And you would know that he never had the objective to do serious and violent offences. We have that powerful evidence you have heard.'

'Finally, one thing I will say about that scenario document, and it speaks to how you can take something and get it wrong...Now my recollection was the crown opened and said about it being related to one the end, it was another...'

'So for five years this case has been waiting, and in five weeks we had that development...'

'Let's talk about the January and August footage where Urs Signer is captured on video. What it shows is a small part of what was going on when he was there. You might recall, in this case, I think it was the military expert...he said the SAS was receiving money for going to play with business men...he chuckled and said, 'Well, yes, not really procedure. There were discussions and meetings about that.'...In a way, why is the hammer coming down so heavy on someone like Urs Signer? Aaron Pascoe also confirmed that on U-Tube, you can see videos of people dressing up and doing war-games.'

'In a way that is why Urs Signer was there, but that was not illegal...You have to cut through the fog...If the people of te Urewera are described as the people of the mist – this is about the fog – you have to cut through it.'

'He was a guest up there, immersing himself there in culture and language. And we know that that was what he was doing because he continued doing that in a stream-less way...'

'In October Urs Signer was not in the footage. That has been shown very clearly...You could say, that doesn’t surprise you, that when the man from Iraq was there, Urs and Ms Bailey disappeared...given what they know is going on in Iraq.'

'Another thing is the suggestion that there are firecrackers and a bullet and rifle that match...but you really know nothing about substance about that...'

'The firecrackers, I got one of the witnesses to confirm Urs Signer was throwing firecrackers at a a form of agitation. So where does that get you? A piece of firecracker paper'

'Under cross-examination with regard to the rifle and the bullet...the expert witness was made to make concessions of reliability of his evidence and his particular field of expertise.'

'An Object to Seek Peaceful Resolution'

'This brings me back to more general organised criminal group. Count One is the most serious allegation. It is the essence of the Crown case...there was close to a year of supposed training and the police intervened and why? There was nothing that happened, nothing was going to happen. Numbers were dropping off. I went through with Aaron Pascoe...questioned Howard Broad said, 'There was no suggestion that action was going to be taken by this group'.'

'Ross Burns says there was no specific plan, but he says that that doesn't matter when you are talking about a goal...I suppose you can argue that, but a goal by its very nature involves some degree of planning, doesn't it?'

'We are nearly five years down the track and we are now told it's an object to seek peaceful resolution and if that doesn’t work, to follow another path...That is very much the Crown case resting on the sand, and your verdict should be the one that washes it away. Not because you feel sorry for them, but because you understand that this isn't what it's been made out to be and you just need to use your cool rational minds…'

'The firearms in respect of Urs Signer, you've heard about the volley of shots...Look at where Urs Signer was that day. The imagery of January and is not unlawful to immerse yourself...'

'October I've spoken about that...there is a circumstantial case there. But it is not proved beyond reasonable doubt.'

'The camp site in Wellington...He was not in occupation there...He was dropped off at Kapiti and his backpack was around the corner in 128 in central Wellington.'

'And in April and June...Where was he? He was in Switzerland...he had gone home.'

'Think about this idea, he joined in this criminal group, not a group to meet and catchup and learn how to do, for example... cooking...He is said to be in this all-consuming organised criminal group. But this is not true – he goes home. So for a third of the relevant time period, he has gone home and he is brought in under some term of party offence. This relates to the case overall doesn't it?...'

'So what was going on? There were no texts between Urs and the others at all...'

'You will have, when you go back to the jury room, Exhibit A for Urs Signer. This is a note book might recall reading out some of the things...lists of things done and lists of to do...and about furthering his education...becoming a teacher...learning Maori...'

'That is Where he Was'

'So that very much melds with what I was saying was going on. He was going on with his life...and at the address in Wellington was a teachers enrolment form for Massey dated 3rd October 2007...I suggest that speaks volumes about where he was in his life...Because what was he going to do in full disclosure for teaching?...Say that last year I was burning schools, but now I am here to teach kids.'

'The task – the evidence laid before you, from the start to the present day, is a continuum of a motivation of consistency of Urs Signer and his real objects. Those were to be with his partner, and express solidarity to causes – Peace Action Wellington, peace stalls, all about peace, books about gardening, Parihaka...'

'The proof is in the pudding, that is where he was. An aspiration to teaching...a gentle and caring man who cares about the world around him. The ignominy of these allegation...circumstances can conspire to make things looks bad for you.'

'Give them the benefit of the doubt. And that standard is applied, because we are not computers. We can get things wrong, so to avoid people not getting wrongly convicted we have a high standard...It protects people like Urs Signer, because he had in his heart making the world a better place...'

'Grand concepts but fairly standard for him.'

Urs Signer's closing arguments were finished.

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