From The Spark November 2007
As The Spark goes to press the police are applying to lay charges under terrorism laws against a range of political activists. Labour - wanting to appear at arms-length - is delegating responsibility from the attorney-general, Michael Cullen, to the solicitor-general.
On 15 October 300 armed police stormed homes dressed in black, their faces hidden by masks. They dragged unarmed people out of their beds and put them spread-eagle on the ground. In the small town of Ruatoki they stopped over 100 vehicles, searched them and photographed the occupants. The community is seething with anger at these actions, which blatantly breach civil rights.
These police acted as if conducting a siege against aggressive enemy snipers. Having tipped off a television station* they smashed their way into homes while cameras were rolling. This was a conscious deliberate act of intimidation. By the end of the day 17 people had been arrested and were facing firearm charges. Several more were arrested in the following days.
It was revealed that police had carried out surveillance operations on activists for many months. It’s one thing to snoop, it’s another to make sense of mountains of transcribed conversations. It’s a point made by Ross Meurant, once the police forces’ most notorious cop for his suppression of anti-apartheid protests. Meurant has poured scorn on police claims that they were uncovering a terrorist network.
Many of the arrestees are linked to anarchist, antiwar and Maori sovereignty groups. At least one of the people arrested may have mental health problems. To date only three people have been released on bail, though more are expected to be freed as we go to press. Any arrestees denied bail could face many months in jail awaiting trial.
The spectre of “terrorism” is being used consciously by the state to cast the activists in a particular light. The last time there was armed struggle in New Zealand was in the 1860s, and clearly the state is facing no imminent threat today. It is the police who are armed and shooting members of the public.
While protesting against the actions of the police in the raids on political activists, and at the actions of judges refusing bail, we should not forget the main player behind the scenes in these raids – the government.
There is no way that these kinds of measures have been taken by the police without being approved – or instigated – by the government. Indeed, Labour has passed a raft of new “anti-terrorist” legislation since coming to power in 1999 and has even more repressive legislation currently going through parliament. The new legislation will allow the prime minister to decide who is and is not a “terrorist”.
In the 1970s and 1980s people and organisations like Nelson Mandela and the ANC were designated “terrorist” by Western governments – by the same people who were falling over themselves to have their photos taken with Mandela after the end of apartheid and the ANC became the government in South Africa. Today, anyone who resists Western diktats in the Third World is likely to be labelled a “terrorist” and this kind of designation is now being brought home to be used against political activists here.
The police invoked the Terrorism Suppression 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.
The amendments to the Terrorism Suppression Act, which have just passed a second reading with the full support of the two main capitalist parties Labour and National, (by a huge majority of 109 to 12 ) create a new offence of carrying out a terrorist act with a maximum life sentence. It also allows the courts to keep defendants in the dark about classified information which can be used against them!
Helen Clark - aware of how unpopular the police raids are - is trying to distance herself from the events. Yet as head of the SIS she cannot avoid the accusation that there is a political dimension to the affair.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Labour is following this course as the Labour Party has a long history of bringing in repressive legislation and practices. It was Labour that began the dawn raids on Pacific Island workers in the 1970s and it was Labour that brought in the Unlawful Assembly legislation of the mid-70s. It was also Labour that introduced peacetime conscription in the late 1940s. And it was Labour that locked up conscientious objectors in horrendous conditions during WW2. (For a critical history of the Labour Party, see Daphna Whitmore and Philip Ferguson, The Truth about Labour: a bosses party, published by the Workers Party.)
Labour also committed New Zealand troops to the invasion of Afghanistan and has overseen New Zealand involvement in Iraq, while putting forward a pretence of non-involvement. And the Labour government ordered the clampdown on anti-war protests in Wellington in the early 2000s which led to the arrests of dozens of activists.
The Workers Party calls for the repeal of all repressive legislation and we actively organise against the system of oppression and exploitation which requires repressive legislation and activities such as those carried out by the cops in the past two weeks. We also seek to build a movement by, of and for workers to challenge Labour and the other capitalist parties.
(*TV3 publicly denied getting a tipoff, but sources inside the station confirm a tipoff was made to an executive at TV3)
Defence committees have been set up 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. www.civilrightsdefence.org.nz