New Zealand: Behind the 'terror raids'

Starting on October 15, New Zealand Security Intelligence Service officers and police began raids on the homes of environmental, unionist and Maori activists in an unprecedented police action allegedly in response to a "terrorist" threat. Peter Robson from Green Left Weekly spoke to New Zealand-based activist Joe Carolan, who is involved with the Civil Rights Defence Committee (CRDC), the Solidarity union, and is a member of the national executive of Socialist Worker, about the raids and who is affected by them.

@question = Can you tell us about the raids?

The raids started on October 15, and 18 people were arrested. They are activists in the Maori sovereignty, anarchist and environmental movements. Over 300 heavily armed paramilitary police took part in the raids. The Tuhoe [a Maori tribe] town of Ruatoki was put under paramilitary siege by the "ninjas" — storm troopers dressed in black who boarded a school bus!

@question = How is the New Zealand Labour government justifying this? Are people buying it?

The case under the Suppression of Terrorism Act is yet to be made, but from what we can garner from police leaks, they believe that there was a terrorist threat. The NZ Council of Trade Unions put out a statement on October 19 calling for the repeal of the terrorism act under which people have been arrested. They restated their original objection to the law — that it could be used to suppress political expression. There have been angry and loud protests all over Aotearoa [New Zealand]— 1000 marching in the rural town of Whakatane, 600 in Rotorua, 400 in Hamilton, and over 1000 in Auckland.

@question = Who are some of those who have been targeted?

Jimmy O'Dea, a 72-year-old veteran socialist, had his house raided, with police looking for pistols, clubs and knives. The police claim that this was not related to the other raids. Jimmy helped to organise trade union support for the Bastion Point occupation in 1978. Despite his poor health, he's been helping organise the new Solidarity union among industrial workers in South Auckland.

To anyone who knows Jimmy, the idea that he could be involved in a kidnapping, which the police allege, is ridiculous. What is true is that Jimmy is known as a fighter for workers' rights and Maori rights. The police know him as a "troublemaker" from way back. If this is a coincidence, it's a very peculiar one.

A good friend of Socialist Worker's, Omar Hamed, is also facing serious firearm charges — Omar is 19 years old. He should not be spending the next two years of his life in jail, without bail or trial, on secret and therefore suspect evidence, while the police try to fit up a case against him — and terrorise every other activist in the country while they're at it. Like Jimmy he's an organiser for the Solidarity union, as well as an active member of Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine. Omar is also active in a range of causes in New Zealand, that include the Supersizemypay.com campaign aimed at raising the minimum wage.

@question = Maori activist Tame Iti was also arrested.

Tame is one of the most renowned radical Maori leaders in Aotearoa. His people, the Tuhoe Nation, never surrendered to the NZ state, and have not signed the Treaty of Waitangi like other tribes. The radical left in Aotearoa has also been targeted.

Many people are asking who is next? Those of us in Socialist Worker have produced a placard reading: "First they came for the Maori, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Maori. Then they came for the anarchists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a anarchist. Then they came for the ecologists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't an ecologist. Then they came for me, and by then there was no one left to speak up for me."

@question = There have already been sizeable protests in opposition. What are the next steps?

We are targeting the Labour Party conference [on November 3] for more protests. Also we urgently need comrades, unions and movements in Australia to send messages of support to the CRDC. Activists are facing 14 years in prison under the Suppression of Terrorism Act. There are existing firearm laws that people can be tried under if they have broken the law, but the use of the "terror" laws is an attack on the radical left and on everybody's civil rights in NZ.
[For more information, or to send messages of support, visit http://www.civilrightsdefence.org.nz.]