On 15 October 2007, armed police conducted dawn raids at 50 houses and places of work across New Zealand/Aotearoa. They arrested and imprisoned 16 activists involved in the Tino Rangatiratanga (Maori self-determination), anarchist, environmental and anti-war movements. All 16 received multiple firearms charges, with the police seeking permission from the Solicitor-General to lay charges under the as-yet-unused Terrorism Suppression Act.
Politicians – including Prime Minister Helen Clark, who authorized the raids – and the media subsequently smeared those arrested with unsubstantiated claims of involvement in terrorist training camps in Tuhoe. This North Island region is populated by the iwi (tribe) of the same name. Unlike many other Maori, they never signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the Crown in 1840 and have always struggled fiercely for their autonomy. As Tuhoe activist Taamati Kruger puts it: ‘The history of Tuhoe shows that Tuhoe did not concede, did not cede, did not give up, did not even rent out their sense of sovereignty… their view is as an independent people that want interdependence as a lifestyle.’
Some of the most extreme raids occurred in Tuhoe. In Ruatoki, houses were searched and the town was blockaded by armed police. For several hours they stopped and searched all cars leaving and entering the town and took photographs of their occupants without their consent. Rubbing salt in still-fresh wounds, the blockade was set up on the ‘confiscation line’, marking the border of a vast tract of land confiscated from Tuhoe by the Crown in 1867.
A solidarity movement sprang up across the country, with people marching, attending court hearings, raising funds and speaking out against the raids. In the first four weeks, all 16 arrestees were relocated to two Auckland prisons, to make their prosecutions more convenient for the police. This meant moving them away from their support networks. Four prisoners were granted bail in the two weeks following the raids. Then on 1 and 2 November all 16 arrestees were heard in one court for the first time. Two more were granted bail.
Valerie Morse, a Wellington anarchist arrested on 15 October, said: ‘Arrest was traumatic, but not nearly as traumatic as a month in prison not knowing if we would be charged with terrorism offences. We had no idea what the evidence was against us, yet we were expected to try to defend ourselves. As I have now viewed some 6,500 pages of disclosure from the police, it is very clear that this investigation was prompted by political fear about Maori sovereignty. Tuhoe was used once again as an example for the rest of Maori about what happens if you try to truly resist the neoliberal, white-supremacist paradigm.’
The Solicitor-General decided against laying charges under anti-terrorism legislation, and after four weeks in jail all the remaining prisoners were released on bail. In late December, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights while Countering Terrorism decided to investigate the New Zealand Government over its conduct during the raids, based on 14 specific claims of human rights abuses. This is the first time that a complaint from a group against a nation-state has been accepted by the Rapporteur.
The arrests were not over though: in mid-February three more people were arrested and charged with firearms offences.
For background information and up-to-date news on the hearings, see www.october15thsolidarity.info