The future of New Zealand’s controversial terrorism suppression laws is in doubt, after authorities ruled that none of those arrested in last month’s raids on Maori communities will face terrorism charges.
Solicitor-General David Collins QC says the “overly complex and incoherent” legislation means the law cannot be used to prosecute in any of the 12 cases he was reviewing following the raids.
Meanwhile, there are calls for the Police Commissioner to resign over heavy-handed tactics meted out to Maori terrorism suspects.
October 15th 2007 will be remembered as the day the ‘war on terror’ reached Whakatane.
Heavily armed tactical response police wearing balaclavas set up roadblocks in the Bay of Plenty boondocks and searched vehicles and photographed their occupants.
The Tuhoe tribe have since called in Peter Williams QC, who believes they have a good case against police for breaching their civil rights.
“I may say that there has been terrorism, but the terrorism has emanated from the police, not from anybody else,” he said.
Mr Collins agrees that the evidence was insufficient to justify this heavy-handed approach. He also says the anti-terrorism laws themselves are deficient and in urgent need of redrafting.
“I have advised the commissioner that I am unable to authorise the prosecutions that have been sought under the Terrorism Suppression Act,” he said.
Mr Williams says that is just the start.
“I think the police position is that they have used the Terrorism Act excessively, particularly in opposing bail, and possibly leading the people of New Zealand to think that there was terrorism by these people,” he said.
“That has now been belied by the Solicitor-General in a decision that I think is adroit, and I think is objective, and I think a very wise decision.
“What should happen now, as I understand it, is that these people should be released on bail and their particular cases should be dealt with according to law.”
Toi Iti, the son of high-profile Maori sovereignty activist, Tame Iti – who is now applying for release on bail – says he is relieved at the dramatic turn of events.
“Because I think just having the association with the word ‘terrorism’ and all of the connotations that come with that, with the terrorist acts that happen globally around the world, to have that associated with your family and your name has a huge effect,” he said.
Innocent people affected
But for police, it’s a humiliating backdown from what they claim was an imminent threat to national security. Police Commissioner Howard Broad now concedes that a lot of innocent people got caught up in the dragnet.
“They’re clearly hurt, they’re clearly distressed,” he said.
“The people of Tuhoe particularly feel like that this operation was directed at them.
“I’ve got some work to do to build bridges there and I acknowledge that.
“But in terms of this being a serious risk, I stand exactly behind what I did, and I expect the people of New Zealand would support me in that.”
Maori political leaders like Hone Harawira say that is just not good enough.
“He announced on the first day, ‘terrorism’, and he has not been able to prove it,” he said.
“He employs Kaitakawaenga, Maori police officers who work in places like Ruatoki.
“He had the opportunity 18 months ago to say, ‘Guys, I think there’s something going on in here. Get in there and find out.’ It could have been all over and done with inside two or three weeks.”
Instead, Mr Harawira says, the Police Commissioner did not inform the local Maori police officers.
“The boss of that operation, of that unit, the Maori Liaison Officers, wasn’t even told until the operation had started,” he said.
“[Commissioner Broad] said himself on day one, ‘I stake my reputation on it’. He’s blown it, he should go.
Slight on Tuhoe community
The Tuhoe tribe now thinks it is time for police to start listening to their own Maori Liaison Officers and apologise for the slight on their community.
Mr Williams says it was effectively branded a terrorist enclave.
“There’s a lot of ill-feeling at the present moment, there’s a lot of anger, their mana has been affected,” he said.
Mana is a supernatural life force of power or authority.
Mr Williams says there has been a series of illegal acts by the police.
“It is time now, in my humble opinion, for a reconciliation, for the police to apologise and for the police to make recompense, so that this can be amended and the mana of the police as well, restored.”
But others, like Mr Harawira, suggest the incident has put relations between police and Maoris back 100 years.
“How dare they arrest Tame Iti! What are the charges that he is leading a terrorist organisation? This is bullshit!” he said___________