On Monday, October 15th 2007, more than 300 police carried out dawn raids on dozens of houses all over Aotearoa / New Zealand. Police claim the raids were in response to ‘concrete terrorist threats’ from indigenous activists. What initially started with 20 defendants is now down to four: Taame, Emily, Rangi and Urs.
Their trial started Monday 13th February 2012 in Auckland. Below are a series of updates from the ongoing court process, beginning with a background article. More updates can be found at: http://october15thsolidarity.info/
Background to the case
On Monday, October 15th 2007, more than 300 police carried out dawn raids on dozens of houses all over Aotearoa / New Zealand. Police claim the raids were in response to “concrete terrorist threats” from indigenous activists. What initially started with 20 defendants is now down to four: Taame, Emily, Rangi and Urs. Their trial will start on 13th February 2012 in Auckland.
The raids were the first ever carried out under the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA). On the day of the raids, the police arrested 17 people. One person was immediately discharged, and 16 went to prison held on Arms Act charges for up to a month while the police sought to bring additional charges for “participation in a terrorist group” against 12 of the 16. In NZ, the consent of the Solicitor-General is required before charges can be brought under the TSA.
On 8 November 2007, the Solicitor-General refused to give police permission to bring these charges due to lack of evidence. All of the accused were released on bail still facing Arms Act charges.
The following week, the Wellington newspaper The Dominion Post published a front-page article entitled “The Terror Files” in which highly sensational extracts of conversations intercepted by the police were published. These extracts were said to be from the accused, but they were no longer legally admissible against them because the terrorism charge on which the warrant for the interception was granted had failed.
For this article, the newspaper was charged with contempt of court and a trial was held in the Wellington High Court in September 2008. The editor of the newspaper freely admitted breaching court suppression orders against publication. The Solicitor-General said the publication was the “most serious breach of an accused fair trial rights” that he had ever seen. The effect of the article was to deny the defendants any chance of advancing a defence of “lawful, proper and sufficient purpose.” He also said that the police affidavit where the published bits came from was itself full of conversations that were taken out of context to make the threat seem “imminent” and give veracity to the police’s narrative.
In February and April 2008, four more arrests were made. All were charged under the Arms Act along with the other 16, bringing the total number to 20 people in the case.
In September 2008, there was a month-long depositions hearing in the Auckland District Court. Two of the 20 were discharged from the case, 18 people were sent forward to be tried on Arms Act charges.
One month after the depositions hearing and a year after the original arrests, the crown brought an additional charge – “participation in a criminal group” – against five of the accused.
The trial was moved from the District Court to the High Court. The crown and defendants filed numerous “pre-trial” applications. The most significant of these concerned the admissibility of material obtained by police. During this hearing, the High Court ruled that the police’s investigation had been illegal: it involved breaches of human rights and criminal acts, but the material from it was still admissible for a trial. The defence team appealed the admissibility of this material to the Supreme Court.
Ultimately, there was a split outcome with the Supreme Court ruling all of the material illegal, but admissible only against the five people facing a charge of “participation in a criminal group.” This was due to the way the Evidence Act was written which allows the court to conduct a “balancing act” weighing up the alleged offending of the defendants against the actual offending by police. In this case, the balance of the court decided that Arms Act charges were of a less serious nature than the offending of the police in gathering the material, therefore the evidence should not be used against those 13 people who were only facing Arms Act charges. Shortly thereafter, the charges were dropped against the 13.
The “criminal group” charge, however, was deemed more serious thus the illegally obtained material could be used against the five people still accused despite the lack of any additional evidence.
In the meantime, one of the five remaining defendants, Tuhoe Lambert, died from stress-related illness.
One of the other pre-trial applications by the crown sought to deny a jury trial to the defendants, instead petitioning for a trial by judge-alone. The High Court granted their wish and ordered a trial by judge-alone, buying into the argument that the matter was too “long and complex” for a jury to understand. The defendants fought this all the way to the Supreme Court, but when the other 13 defendants were discharged from the case, the crown could not maintain their argument any longer and dropped their application. There will be a jury trial.
There are now four defendants in the Urewera trial. After four and a half-years, the matter has been set down for up to three months in the Auckland High Court.
Media Release: Urewera trial start, crown propaganda begins
Date:Monday 13 Feb 2012
From: October 15th Solidarity
“After more than four years, the start of the Urewera raids trial – the trial of our four friends Taame, Urs, Emily and Rangi – will begin on Monday morning in the Auckland High Court., This is a political persecution of Tuhoe, and of people who support tino rangatiratanga. We call for the trial to be abandoned and the charges to be dropped,” said Ana Cocker, October 15th Solidarity spokesperson.
“Most people will remember the raids on the 15th of October 2007 when the police cried ‘terrorism’. The reality was that the police rolled into Ruatoki and terrorised the community, holding women and children captive in their own homes while searches were carried out through the entire community.”
“We can expect that the crown will try to paint the four people as terrible violent individuals. The reality is very different. These four people are political activists working for freedom, justice, and self-determination: things we should all believe in and be proud of. These four people are involved in positive and progressive social change in their communities.”
“The crown has said that the trial will last 3 months suggesting that they will be waging a war of attrition wearing out the jury to try to secure convictions.”
“These political prosecutions are happening all over the world as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’. People who are struggling against war, greed and exploitation are being criminalised and terrorised and then labeled terrorists.”
“We hope people in this country will see through the crown propaganda of the next few weeks and see this case for what it is: the state stifling political dissent and repressing the aspirations of Maori for control over their lives, the lands and their resources.”
Media Release: Prosecution Case Lays Out its Evidence in Urewera case
Date: 15 Feb 2012
“It started with a bang and that was all,” said Ana Cocker, October 15th Solidarity spokesperson. “The crown case fizzed out quickly into only little bits of evidence that Crown Prosecutor Ross Burns presented in highly emotive language.”
“It was high theatrics and Ross Burns played to the jury and media,” she said. “But people can see through it.”
“Four and a half years ago the camps had been highly dangerous because they were hidden deep in the bushes of te Urewera. Yesterday they were dangerous because they were held close to Ruatoki. The Crown said they were held close to a marae, to a school, to a road. They were even held in a paddock,” said Ms Cocker. “They were dangerous because they were too public.”
“The Crown is already adapting its stories. Ross Burn’s presentation of the crown case shows how so-called evidence can be twisted and presented in different lights. But we are confident that the jury and the public will see through the charade.”
Yesterday was the first day of evidence against the so-called ‘Urewera 4′ – the last four people still facing charges from ‘Operation Eight’. That was the failed police operation to charge 12 people under the Terrorism Suppression Act. Originally the four were part of a group of 17, all charged under the Arms Act. Then a year after their arrests, these four and one other (who died in July last year), were also charged with ‘Participation in an Organised Criminal Group’, an offence under the Crimes Act. Charges against the other defendants were all dropped.
“On the street, people are saying when will the circus be ended,” Ms Cocker said. “People are amazed that this is still going on.”
The case has cost millions of dollars. The Crown’s case, presented yesterday morning, was the culmination of approximately two years of close, and often illegal, surveillance. It cost approximately $8 million dollars. The best of the evidence was choppy video images of some people wearing balaclavas, or scarves, and some with camouflage clothing and or guns, walking through bush and paddocks. Ross Burns highlighted these people with his red laser.
“He did not however,” said Ms Cocker, “focus on the people without balaclavas, without masks, without camouflage clothing and without guns. He was ominously quiet then.”
“He played two sound chunks of gun fire, he did not however play the many hours of silence.”
“He pointed out in the video images a lot of people who are not facing any charges. He named and pointed out some of the 13 people who have had all the charges dropped against them. He even pointed out one of these people in the court, pointing them out to the jury and naming them.”
“Worse,” said Ms Cocker, “the Crown is trying Tuhoe Lambert.”
Tuhoe Lambert was the other person charged with ‘participating in an organised criminal group.’ Mr Lambert died in July last year. All proceedings have been stayed against Mr Lambert, however the charges have not been dropped.
“It is an outrage that evidence is been presented against Tuhoe Lambert,” Ms Cocker said. “It is an outrage that they are dragging his name through court. They are prosecuting him as if he is sitting there next to the other four but they have given him no lawyer. Our sympathies and anguish go out to his whanau.”
“We feel for all the people dragged through this saga,” said Ms Cocker. “It is going to be a long court case. It is time that the crown dropped the charges. It is not too late to end this farce.”
Media Release: “The Cost of the Case”
Date: 22 Feb 2012
“Finally the crown has begun to think about the cost of this case,” said Ana Cocker, a spokesperson for the October 15th Solidarity group, “But only in monetary terms.”
This afternoon, after the lunch break and before the judge was back in court, crown prosecutor Ross Burns was over heard to speak about the cost of bringing witnesses to court.
He was asking whether all the witnesses that the crown were calling really needed to attend court, and could some of them be read by consent.
“Supporters present in court were quick to express their disbelief that the crown had any understanding of the cost of the case,” Ms Cocker said. “They also saw it as a cynical attempt by the crown to limit the possibility of the defence to question witnesses. ”
The cost of the case is well into the millions. The surveillance up to October 15th 2007 is supposed to have cost at least $8million, the photocopying bill just for the pre-trial in the district court in 2008 cost around $250,000. Some people have heard that the current cost is up around $40million, and that’s only counting dollars.
“What is uncountable,” said Ms Cocker, “is the damage and harm the crown has done to Tuhoe. What happened in 2007 and what is happening now is just a continuation of what the state has been doing to Tuhoe since the 1800s.”
“It is a continuation of the same behaviour that resulted in the fatal police raid in 1916.”
“The cost of Operation 8 in true terms is uncountable. It is time to end the sham once and for all and to drop the charges.”