Jared Phillips, Co-ordinating editor, The Spark
Public meetings have been held in New Zealand’s major centres to build opposition to increasing state power being used against activists and oppressed groups. Early this year the Workers Party and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Solidarity Campaign hosted one such forum in Christchurch with a focus on the implications of the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA). Five speakers – Michael Knowles, Valerie Morse, Murray Horton, Paul Piesse, and Michael Walker – explored the local and international dimensions.
The legal/social interface
The first speaker was civil rights lawyer Michael Knowles. He recently ran the successful legal defence of three Christian social justice activists belonging to the Ploughshares group who were charged with intentional damage and entering a property with intention to commit a crime after they physically deflated a dome covering a satellite dish at the Waihopai spy base in 2008. The Waihopai complex is used to provide intelligence to New Zealand and allied military, including the U.S. military.
Knowles started his presentation by reflecting on how he’d stood in the same hall decades ago (the forum was at the Workers Education Association) debating the introduction of the Bill of Rights, which he opposed because it legislated restrictions upon civil rights. He spoke of how the Bill of Rights put the decision as to what is ‘reasonable’ into the hands of judges and the police, and that with the Bill of Rights in place, the government continued to go after its ‘usual soft targets’ such as Maori, Pacific people, people of lower economic status, as well as political activists. He then used the example of the 2007 armed police raids and arrests carried out against Tuhoe (a Maori Iwi) as an example of how the government was using newer legislation – in this case the TSA - to go after its traditional targets.
Knowles then turned his focus to the Search and Surveillance Bill which was initiated under Labour and will probably come into effect in 2011. His key point was that most of the power in this forthcoming legislation already exists. The intention is to tighten up on any gaps, so will give police greater powers of questioning and greater legal powers to enter homes. He touched on the earlier case of social justice activist Aziz Choudry’s home being illegally entered by the SIS and how this would be legal under the search and surveillance laws.
Knowles said that the government’s targets will remain the same and that the search and surveillance legislation may further the opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of the system. For example, commercial and corporate entities that commit serious crimes including fraud are unlikely to be targeted under the upcoming legislation.
Operation Eight, the removal of the right to a trial by jury
Valerie Morse is a Wellington-based anarchist who was one of those arrested during Operation Eight which consisted of police raids on Tuhoe and political activists in 2007. Morse outlined the issue starting with some background as to how the arrestees originally faced charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act. Those charges were withdrawn in November 2007 when the Solicitor-General found that there were no charges to be answered under the Act. Instead the arrestees are being charged under the Arms Act on charges for which the state has no evidence.
Similar in some aspects to Michael Knowles’s presentation, Morse then made a broader argument that the state has continually targeted ‘those at the bottom of social and class society’. She pointed out that prior to the events of 9/11 those groups were targeted but the targeting has been increased under the post-9/11 conditions.
The legal struggle of the Operation Eight arrestees took a new turn in December 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled that the defendant’s will be trialed by judge alone and without opportunity for a jury trial. This course is available to the crown as a result of the Criminal Procedures Act which was passed in 2007 under the Labour –led coalition government. Phil Goff was the Minister of Justice. This legislation – allowing the crown to trial by judge alone – was passed in the same year that the Operation Eight raids were carried out. Previous to this the option for a judge alone trial could only be granted to defendants. The defence are having the judge alone decision reviewed in the Court of Appeal.
TSA’s international aspects
Murray Horton of the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa gave a primer on the history of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front which is a federation of progressive mass organisations in the Philippines. Horton demonstrated the clear and leading role that these organisations play in the genuine liberation of poor and oppressed groups in that country. He also highlighted the state-terrorism and human rights abuses carried out by the Philippines government against political organisers, trade union organisers, and oppressed groups.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key announced in October 2010 that the Communist Party of The Philippines and the New Peoples Army, amongst other organisations, are now listed under the TSA. This means that a person assisting (or belonging to an organisation that is assisting) those organisations can be charged under the TSA. Key openly admitted that there was no connection between the newly listed groups and domestic threats to New Zealand and that the listing was made to support the efforts of the international community. If we unpack that politically, it means political support for the foreign policy of the U.S. and other Western powers.
With regard to the judge-alone trial for the Operation Eight arrestees, Horton said that the removal of people (i.e. a jury) from the case is symbolic of the removal of the only democratic aspects within the judicial system.
Case of the Cuban Five shows hypocrisy
Paul Piesse, Christchurch spokesperson for the Cuba Friendship Society, focussed his presentation on the campaign to free the Cuban Five. ‘The five’ were detained in the U.S in 1998. They were falsely accused, and then falsely convicted in 2001, of espionage against the Unites States government. The men had been operating in Miami to monitor the activities of far-right, non-U.S. government paramilitary groups that operate with the implicit support of the FBI/CIA and have carried out terrorist acts against the Cuban people which have resulted in the deaths of more than 3000 Cubans over the last 40 years.
The Cuban Five are collectively serving 4 life sentences and seventy-five year’s imprisonment for monitoring the paramilitary activity on U.S. soil. The five had their convictions overturned and a retrial secured in 2005 but the decision for retrial was then overturned. Piesse said that the U.N. Human Rights Commission, 10 Nobel Laureates, the U.S. Bar Association, two former Vice Presidents of the European Parliament, the current Vice President of the European Parliament, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are amongst those who have supported the release or retrial of the Cuban Five. (Piesse noted that while the campaign had gained a lot of response from progressives and unionists in New Zealand, there had been no response from the Green Party, and in fact the least friendly response came from Green MP Kennedy Graham).
The U.S. government continues to imprison (without fair trial) operatives who were seeking to prevent real acts of terror against civilians. This is a powerful illustration to show that combating terrorism is not what motivates U.S foreign and military policy.
Restricting liberties while practicing state terror
Speaking on behalf of the Workers Party and the PFLP Solidarity Campaign, Mike Walker opened with some remarks about a recently published New York Times (25/1/2011) article which had branded PFLP founder George Habash as the godfather of Middle Eastern terrorism. In fact terrorism has continued to reign on Palestinians, including by paramilitaries, since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. As a response to such Western assertions that liberation organisations are terrorists, Walker showed footage of U.S troops in Iraq indiscriminately firing upon groups of civilians going about daily life. The footage was taken from behind U.S lines atop of a building, and revealed U.S troops making comments such as ‘light that bitch up’ in reference to a woman civilian who was then murdered, along with others, in the gunfire.
What about New Zealand’s role in the Middle-East? Last December two SAS soldiers in Afghanistan led a raid on a plant which resulted in the deaths of two civilians and injuries to two more. The dead civilians were both shot in the head. The Director of criminal investigations for the Kabul police reported that “It was murder… I have seen a lot of cases of violence, but I have not seen an incident where they kill civilians like this for no reason.” Walker used this example to highlight the charade. The New Zealand state – with its armed apparatus murdering civilians - is using ‘terror’ to justify legislation at home which restricts civil liberties and restricts the ability to support progressive/revolutionary struggles elsewhere.
Following from the speakers, the audience (40 people attended) had an open discussion about the necessity of continuing to build opposition to repressive laws.