On 15 October 300 capitalist police stormed homes in several cities in the North Island. They acted as if conducting a siege against aggressive enemy snipers. Having tipped off television stations the police smashed their way into houses while cameras were rolling. This was a conscious deliberate act of police intimidation. They dragged unarmed people out of their beds and by the end of the day 17 people had been arrested and were facing firearm charges.
Police report they had been carrying out surveillance operations on a range of activists for many months.
Despite police shouting “terrorists”, no one so far has been charged under the Terrorism Suppression Act. Nor does it seem big caches of arms have been found. The seventeen arrestees are accused of taking part in military-style training in the Bay of Plenty forests. Police claim to have photographs of training camps and seized as “evidence” sleeping bags, camouflage clothing and woolen hats from homes.
It’s worth getting a bit of perspective on what people are accused of. Every weekend many people gather at rifle clubs, or go pig hunting, or run around the bush playing paintball. Let’s not forget there was a time when the state ran such camps for males, until compulsory military training was stopped in 1972.
Many of the arrestees are linked to anarchist, antiwar and Maori sovereignty groups. At least one of the people arrested has mental health problems. If the arrestees are denied bail they could face many months in jail awaiting trial.
The spectre of “terrorism” is being used consciously by the police to cast the activists in a particular light. The last time there was armed struggle in New Zealand was in the 1860s, and the state is facing no imminent threat today. One group that is armed and shooting members of the public is the police.
After 9/11 governments introduced repressive legislation at Washington’s insistence. As part of the US-led imperialist bloc the New Zealand government was more than happy to oblige. The Terrorism Suppression Act was widely opposed before being introduced in 2002 and drew around 150 submissions against it. The Act gave the Prime Minister the power to designate individuals or groups as terrorist and to have their incomes and assets frozen. Little proof is required to label someone or an organisation terrorist under the act and jail terms of up to 14 years can be imposed.
The police invoked the Act to put activists under surveillance and to conduct searches. According to Dr David Small from Canterbury University search warrants are only legal if the police have reasonable grounds to believe that they will find what they are searching for. Small rightly points out that the raids look much more like a fishing expedition.
With 300 police mobilised around the country the operation also had the whiff of a training exercise about it. The timing of the operation also has a bad odour – coming just before parliament votes on further draconian amendments to the Terrorism Suppression Act.
Judging by conversations in workplaces and through the media Middle New Zealand has not been convinced by the police “terrorist” hype. And in the main centres activists are setting up defence committees to give solidarity to victims of capitalist state violence.
Donations to a defence fund can be made online to 38-9000-0099726-00 GLOBAL PEACE & JUSTICE AKLD Identify donation as being for the defence fund. Initial patrons of the fund are Jane Kelsey, John Minto, Simon Oosterman and Mike Treen.