Update: The hearing at the Auckland High Court to withdraw charges has been rescheduled to Monday 12 September, at 8:30am.
Remember the police raids of October 15, 2007, the subject of the recent documentary Operation 8? Remember the 18 people arrested in those raids, already branded as terrorists in the mass media, who have been waiting nearly 4 years for a chance to defend themselves in court? Remember Tuhoe Lambert, who died earlier this year, still waiting for the wheels of justice to turn?
Aotearoa Indymedia reported yesterday that all charges against 13 of the 17 surviving defendants will be formally withdrawn on Friday 9 September, at the Auckland High Court. After the recent Supreme Court ruling that much of the supposed evidence for the Arms Act charges is inadmissible, Crown Solicitor Simon Moore finally admitted the obvious, that prosecuting these people is not in the public interest.
Still facing charges are:
- Emily Bailey - Māori radical, eco-anarchist, community gardener, and film-maker
- Urs Signer - eco-anarchist, musician, and former Indymedia editorial volunteer (another Indy ed, Omar Hamed, was one of those whose charges have been dropped)
- Rangi Kemara * - Māori radical, webmaster of now-defunct tino rangatiratanga forum site AoCafe, and former manager of the Indigenous Media Network
- Tame Iti - Māori radical, and prominent activist and spokesperson for Tuhoe independence
As I understand it, Emily, Urs, Rangi, and Tame, are charged with “participation in an organised criminal group”, under Section 98A of the Crimes Act. According to a 2008 speech by Labour’s Annette King (then Minster of Police):
“Section 98A enables the prosecution of the leaders and members of organised criminal groups who plan and organise those criminal businesses without getting their hands dirty… Section 98A of the Crimes Act requires proof of the existence of an organised criminal group and of the gang members’ participation in that group.”
As defined under Section 98A, an “organised criminal group” is one whose objectives include “obtaining material benefit”, or the “commission of serious violent offences”. Clearly this piece of law was never intended to apply to activist training camps. None of those arrested as part of Operation 8 were ever accused of trying to obtain material benefit. Since the only charges relating to violent offences - those under the Arms Act - are being withdrawn for most of the defendents, it seems unlikely they will stand up against these 4. Even if the Crown can convince a jury that Emily, Urs, Rangi and Tame were part of an organised group intending to take illegal action, there is no evidence that such a hypothetical group creates an offence under Section98A.
The Crown has no case against these people, and prosecuting them anyway is not in the public interest. It would simply be flushing public money down the toilet. Money that could be better spent launching an independent public enquiry into why public resources are being wasted on farces like Operation 8, and why police were allowed to get away with gross violations of so many people’s basic rights in the execution of the raids. As the late Tuhoe Lambert said of the raids, “the thought of paramilitaries running around our bush, that’s abhorrent to me, too. The police looked like paramilitaries to me.”
* The only profile I could find on Rangi was that of right-wing blogger Trevor Loudon. It’s ironic that Loudon has collected so much useful biographical information on a number of Aotearoa activists, deluding himself that this information is somehow an indictment against their good work.