New Zealand: Police 'anti-terrorism' raids spark protests

Carrying signs reading "Police are the real terrorists" and "Free all political activists", up to 1000 people rallied outside the Rotorua District Court on October 25 to protest against police raids that resulted in the arrest of 17 people a week earlier, as three of those arrested had their court cases transferred to Auckland.

Most of those arrested in the October 15 police raids are Maori rights campaigners. But they also include environmentalists and anti-war activists.

The raids, carried out by 300 heavily armed police in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton, Christchurch, Whakatane and Ruatoki, 20 kilometres south of Whakatane, were conducted under the Firearms Act and the 2002 Suppression of Terrorism Act.

On October 19, 1500 people rallied in Whakatane, a town in northern NZ, in solidarity with those arrested. The protesters carried banners proclaiming, "We are not terrorists — we've been terrorised".

The October 22 International Herald Tribune reported the police raids have "reopened old wounds, igniting a furious public debate about terrorism, policing and race ...

"Even politicians in the governing Labour Party have been hesitant to endorse the police sweep, taking a wait-and-see approach. The Security Intelligence Service took the unusual step of issuing a press release saying it had not been involved in the raids."

NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark's Labour government is trying to pass amendments to the Supression of Terrorism Act to broaden the definition of a terrorist act, adding to the list of proscribed organisations and reducing judicial oversight.

"It seems to us that this is some kind of scare to get the anti-terror legislation passed", John Minto, a prominent human rights campaigner told the IHT.

The Radio New Zealand website reported on October 25 that the Labour government's amendments to the Suppression of Terrorism Act passed their second reading in parliament, by a vote of 109 to 12, that night, adding: "Opponents contend that legitimate protest action may result in people getting life imprisonment if they are found guilty of a new terrorism offence ... The Green Party says organisers of disruptive protests could be captured because the offence also covers action that compels the government to do, or not do, something."

The October 26 New Zealand Herald reported that Jimmy O'Dea, "72-year-old socialist worker who has been protesting against the 'anti-terror' raids had his own home searched by police yesterday over an alleged kidnapping ... threatening to cause grievous bodily harm, blackmail and commission of a crime with a firearm.

"O'Dea said he had no knowledge of any kidnapping or similar crime. 'I don't commit crime like they are talking about. I was flabbergasted, to be honest.'

"Solidarity Union secretary Joe Carolan said O'Dea was helping to distribute pamphlets for a coming protest against the 'terror raids' so the timing of the search on his own home was a strange coincidence."

Police spokesperson Noreen Hegarty told the Herald that O'Dea was not a suspect in the kidnapping. She said the warrant to raid his home was in relation to another man who was arrested on October 23 and had given O'Dea's address as his own on his bail application.