“Concerned Citizens: Raising Money for the ‘Terror Raid’ Arrestees” (Garrett Street, Wellington, June 3rd, 2011)

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“More than 50 artists from around New Zealand will be exhibiting their work in Wellington at the start of next month to raise funds and public awareness for the arrestees of the 2007 October 15 “terror raids.” Exhibited works range from paintings, sculptures, and animation, to a reproduction of the assassination device police claim ‘terror raid’ arrestees planned to use – a catapult designed to launch a bus onto the head of former US president George Bush.” (Scoop: Independent News)

‘Concerned Citizens’ is taking place at Garrett Street, in Wellington (opposite Glover Park, above People’s coffee) and opens on Friday 3rd of June at 4.30pm, followed by a screening of the documentary Operation 8: Deep in the Forest at 8pm. The donated works will be on sale and display over the weekend (with all money raised going to those currently standing trial). I will be donating a couple of works, alongside more than 50 Wellington artists including Tao Wells, Campbell Kneale, Bryce Galloway, Robyn Kenealy, Ellen Rhoda, Roger Morris, Richard Meros, Arlo Edwards, Jeff Henderson and Hannah Salmon (see full list here).

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A SHORT HISTORY LESSON

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“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.” (October 15 Solidarity Website) However, the Solicitor-General was quick to reject the police bid to treat these arrests as ‘terrorism’ and the only charges laid to date have been for the possession of unlicensed firearms.

4 years later those arrested, including both Maori and Pakeha activists, are finally standing trial, but have been denied a jury; “Why have these people been denied a trial by jury? Why is there so much secrecy surrounding the legal proceedings? The police seem to be equating legitimate political and environmental activism with terrorism.” (Lance Ravenswood) Adding insult to injury, it has now been announced that the trial may be postponed another year, not taking place until 2012. Tamati Kruger speculated that the delay of the trial may have something to do with the rugby world cup being scheduled to start just as the trial would have been ending; “There may be an embarrassment with some Tūhoe action and public action while rugby and New Zealand is being showcased to the world.” (read more)

Ngai Tūhoe were one of the main targets of the ‘terror raids’, which serves to further damage the already strained relations between Tūhoe and the NZ government. In 1865 Tuhoe were falsely accused of killing the missionary Karl Volkner and, based on this accusation, the government stole 5700ha of their most fertile land. Furthermore, Tuhoe declined to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, were instrumental in supporting the Kingitanga movement, and granted Te Kooti (who had been arrested and exiled by Crown without trial) sanctuary in Te Urewera in 1868. As a result, “a scorched earth campaign was unleashed against Tūhoe; people were imprisoned and killed, their cultivations and homes destroyed, and stock killed or run off. Through starvation, deprivation and atrocities at the hands of the government… Tūhoe submitted to the Crown.” (Te Ara Encyclopedia)  The way in which the most recent arrests were carried out at Te Urewera, and the subsequent abuse of the term ‘terrorist’, only adds to the very real terror visited on the Tūhoe people by the New Zealand government over the past 140 years. As Tame Iti has said, the “mana of Tuhoe that has been compromised, trampled by Pakeha [for more than 100 years]… so this is not a new experience for me today.” (read more)

Dr. Paul Buchanan points out that, “All of [the charges] can be dealt with by criminal law. There’s no reason to criminalise political dissent or to make a separate category of political crimes that constitute terrorism… In liberal democracies we have an absolute right to dissent and in dissenting we are actually allowed the absolute right to misbehave… It’s only dictatorships, authoritarian regimes that criminalise dissent and make the term terrorism synonymous with dissent.” (see more) Unarguably, owning firearms without a license breaks New Zealand law. However, in labeling political activists ‘terrorists’ it is clear that something other than ‘the law’ was at stake for both the police and the government. Even though the charges of terrorism were dropped, the association of activism (and in particular Maori activism) with terrorism has been made. The function of the term ‘terrorist’ in this particular discourse is clearly meaningful, in the sense that it undermines the legitimacy of political dissent where Maori and activism are concerned in terms of mainstream media and public opinion. The damage has been done.

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