When Kiwis woke up to huge red front-page headlines shouting of the overnight arrest of 18 New Zealanders allegedly running terrorism camps in the Urewera ranges… we (readers of the DomPost). Took a collective deep breath.
Here in peaceful, tranquil – Aotearoa backwater – New Zealand were under threat – from our own terrorists.
Or were we?
It’s easy to have 20/20 vision after the event but now we are well into 2008 it to me is all beginning to look like a lot of testosterone has been expelled and dollars spent on the hundreds of hours phone tapping and following the movements of the suspects. That’s not taking into account the outfitting of the 300 or so Darth Vader look alike black-clad, gun toting police who carried out the raids.
Having lived (and travelled) for ten years in the UK I speak with prior knowledge when I say (with one-eyed certainty) ‘we are the most beautiful and peaceful country in the world).
When a niece of mine (who had once lived in Sydney) complained to me of her hometown relations saying ‘aunt they think this (Otaki) is it!’ I had to then assure her ‘darling, this is it, only none of you have been anywhere to know the difference.’
From the bottom of the world we have looked with horror and concern at TV footage of the atrocities occurring around the world.
None of us who saw the footage of light aircraft flying into the Twin Towers could forget it. That act of terrorism on September 11 changed the world forever and together with the responses of other counties we in New Zealand responded to the threat.
Our government’s introduced the Terrorism Suppression Act and it came into effect on October 17, 2002.
Police did not get special rights to arrest or detain people (to do this they needed the authority of the Attorney General) but they were able to obtain warrants to intercept telephone communications.
Fast forward five years – and on October 16, 2007 the country wakes up to the news that the Police had carried out armed raids on homes around the country in Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Palmerston North and Ruatoki.
Readers (of this piece) overseas would have no cause to have heard of Tuhoe nation leader, Tame Iti but his image is what newspaper front page sub editor’s drool over. Look I have used it too.
Tame has a full facial moko (tattoo) and often wears fatigue army garb. He is a self confessed Tino Rangatiratanga or Maori Sovereignty rights supporter and a fervent fighter to retain Tuhoe lands in the Urewera’s. (Native bush).
He has sought publicity and his activities (no doubt) monitored by police. Google him and you will find he has 10 pages – and 17,000 hits to his name.
In recent years he (and others – some of whom are part of the NZ Army and employment services) have run training camps for young disaffected youth. Aimed at getting the young people ‘back on track’ and to learn survival skills.
Tame Iti has since the 1970’s flaunted his Maori sovereignty activism. He has been to prison for it.
So when the arrests of 18 environmentalists, of both men and women and including four Maori – it would naturally to be veteran activist Tame Iti who’s photo was most used, who’s name was not suppressed and who’s bail application was rejected.
Tame’s son Kairakau Iti was moved to say after his father’s arrest:” My father is not a terrorist and I believe most of the New Zealand public realise that.”
I liked the comment of art historian Hamish Keith who was in Germany at the time of the arrests. He was alerted about the ‘terrorism threat’ back home then when told it was Tame Iti – gleefully replied, along the lines of – “Oh they surely have it wrong. He is a humorist not a terrorist.”
I remember a very clever art piece by Tame Iti commenting on shifty turn of the century land deals. It was part of a Ralph Hotere exhibition at City Gallery. It featured a table (I can’t remember what was on the table) but on the floor a mirror showed what was happening under the table – a gun, land sale papers and maybe a few beads.
All very amusing but still the charges for firearms possession remain and the case is now being heard. Most of the defendants are out on bail including Tame Iti who has been touring the UK as part of a theatre troup performing Shakespeare in Te Reo (maori language).
The police discovered early that they could not charge the 18 arrested people with terrorism under the current Act and even some of the firearms charges appear to have been dropped.
The response from one of our largest newspaper companies – Fairfax – had been to cherry pick some of the juicier bits of the police 156 pages of affidavit evidence.
The reason? They believed they were acting on behalf of ’the public’s right to know’. Fair enough.
The paper however did not put the whole document on their web page, which is interesting considering the whole document was purported to be ‘in the public interest.’ This was left to a US based website which was also whipped it off the net when the NZ Crown Law office got wind of it.
We have yet find out if Fairfax’s argument holds up in court.
Just before Christmas, Peter Williams QC representing the Tuhoe residents of Ruatoki issued 30 High Court writs on the Police asking for surveillance on those arrested to be stopped, the community of Ruatoki (where the village was locked down for hours) to be given an apology and all legal costs to be paid.
To date the apology by Police Commissioner Howard Broad has not been wholeheartedly given although some ‘meetings’ have taken place’ I understand with Tuhoe elders. In the meantime we will have to wait until the issue is played out in courts before we hear the most common words said in recent times to indigenous communities for past wrongs .
‘I am sorry’.