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July 21, 2008 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Searching for Terror

The Police Raids
On 15 October 2007, squads of New Zealand Police swept through a number of locations throughout New Zealand, dressed in full riot gear with machine guns, handguns and knives strapped to their black garments. They smashed doors and furniture, arresting people, confiscating computers, cameras, files and papers. They were searching for evidence in order to charge 17 suspects with ‘terrorism’ offences under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Former Vietnam veteran, Tuhoe Lambert, was one of those arrested that morning. Lambert lives in south Auckland with his wife, son, and other members of his family. At 6am, the police arrived, ordering the whole family into the street at gun-point, including his 12 year old grand daughter, Patricia. Tuhoe Lambert’s house was then ransacked.

These dawn raids against kiwi activists occurred for the most part under cover of darkness. The police presence was unannounced. No major city or suburb was locked down; no civil servant or teacher was impeded on his or her way to work; cars were not interfered with, buses of commuters were not boarded, curious bystanders were not photographed.

Raiding Tuhoe
For the people of Te Urewera, however, the situation was vastly different. The police arrived later that morning in force, fully dressed in black, armed to the teeth and bristling. The entire areas around Ruatoki and Taneatua were blocked off. People were prevented from leaving their homes for work. Cars were stopped; occupants were instructed at gun point to leave their vehicles; they were searched and photographed. According to witnesses, a school bus was boarded by police, terrorising young children on their way to Kohanga Reo.

Fortuitously, word got out that something heavy was coming down in Ruatoki. Photographers on assignment for a local Bay of Plenty newspaper, Whakatane Beacon, soon arrived to check out what was happening. The pictures they took went around the world.

According to Tuhoe kaumatua Tamati Kruger, a gross breach of civil rights occurred during the police raids at Ruatoki. These breaches included detaining people for hours without food or water, without formal charges being laid; subjecting women to intimate body searches; herding people into sheds while property searches were underway; and photographing Ruatoki residents at the roadblock to the valley entrance.

One young woman, Annie Rangihika, 17, was searched in full view of the public. When later approached by the New Zealand Herald, the Whakatane High School student declined to comment but said she would never forget what had happened.

‘The police seem to feel they can ignore our people’s civil rights by waving around the Suppression of Terrorism Act’, said Kruger, claiming further that the raids at Ruatoki were marked by deliberate police misinformation. As well as the 17 arrested around the country and charged with firearms charges, he said, more people had been arrested in Ruatoki and had been taken to Rotorua for questioning before being released. Police at Te Ngae station had denied the people legal representation, and had moved them around police stations, confusing family and friends.

According to Annette Sykes, legal counsel for those arrested in Ruatoki, other Māori leaders were now being targeted by police. Prominent Māori leaders had had their homes searched and their computers taken; but they had not been arrested. Sykes said that this amounted to a systematic abuse by a police force that had lost its credibility with Māori.

Those arrested later appeared in Court, charged under a range of arms charges with terrorism charges pending; cases were delayed whilst the police conducted further investigations.

Māori Politicians
Māori politicians who urged people to wait ‘until all the information came out’ were roundly condemned by Māori. According to Tamati Kruger, while the police had all the time to fish for evidence ‘to back their alarmist allegations’, Labour Māori MPs had abandoned their Tuhoe constituents. ‘It’s really an inadequate response from Māori politicians to say let’s wait,’ he said, ‘because while we’re all waiting, there continues to be injustice, there continues to be breaches of civil rights. It’s not a good Māori response for one Māori to say to another, “when something extraordinary happens here, an event, let’s wait.” ’

There was one safeguard for those arrested; the Solicitor General. No charges could be laid by the police, under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, without the concurrence of the Solicitor General, Dr David Collins. After considering all of the evidence gathered by police using ‘terrorism suppression’ warrants, Dr Collins announced that charges under the terrorism Act could not proceed, since that Act was seriously flawed.

The Past As Present
The police raids on Ruatoki brought to mind a long history of Crown coercive policing towards Māori. Tuhoe have suffered many times before, ultimately being deprived of their autonomy in 1896. Police insensitivity towards these historical issues, plus their decision not to consult or involve their own Māori iwi liaison police officers, exacerbated tensions and, as Dr Pita Sharples said, threatened to ‘put our race-relations back by a hundred years.’ It is the hope of all Māori that the police, and the government, would have learned something from this experience; but this does seem unlikely.

Watch our for the forthcoming book (due September) – ‘Terror in our Midst? Searching for Terror in Aotearoa New Zealand’, edited by Danny Keenan, published by HUIA Publishing. Book contains essays on the police raids written mainly by Māori academic staff at Victoria University.

Dr Danny Keenan ‘Searching For Terror’ 3 July 2008


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Comments (4)

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  1. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    First and foremost, I agree that the events that took place in Ruatoki during the 2007 anti-terror raids warrant further investigation. I have no reason to doubt the validity of the concerns expressed by the Ruatoki community, and I hope that any untoward actions on behalf of the Police are brought to light.

    Having said that, I feel that this entire issue has been blown way out of proportion by both the media and by certain sections of New Zealand society. Through careless media overuse of the term ‘terrorism’ and liberal slander against the New Zealand Police Force, our boys in blue were painted as a repressive and fascistic bunch of thugs who had launched a cocked-up, gung-ho bounty hunt on nothing less than a whim. This kind of talk was, and is, both irresponsible and dangerous. Whilst I understand that this article does not fall under this category, I still feel that it paints a one-sided view of the story that fails to take into account a number of key points:

    1.) The raids were a carefully planned and meticulously orchestrated operation which was backed by a wide swathe of evidence as well as the approval of the upper echelons of both the Police Force and the government. They took all precautions and made countless reviews before launching the operation.

    2.) The main reason why the Police decided to charge the arrestees under the Terrorism Suppression Act was because they could not use telephone interception evidence in prosecutions under the Arms Act. It was NOT some deliberately crafted strategy to paint the arrestees as terrorists. In fact, the ‘terrorism’ label was NOT something introduced by the Police – it was entirely a media invention, bandied back and forth amongst the national newspapers until every headline in the country blared the words “terrorist” and “terrorism”. The resulting chaos and confusion turned a small, concentrated operation into a farcical media show.

    3.) Whilst the Solicitor General did dismiss the charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act, this does not reflect upon the relative strength or weakness of the Police case. It merely reflects the ambiguity of the act itself, which would allow any guilty party charged under it to wriggle free on a technicality. David Collins himself admitted this, calling the legislation “almost impossible to apply in a coherent manner”. Even with these legislative shortcomings, he stated that a number of the arrestees had “come close to meeting the criteria under the act”, and that “[i]f the legislation had been framed differently, it is possible that charges under the Terrorism Act may have been able to be brought”.

    The above article also fails to mention that the Solicitor General made the point of calling the evidence itself “very disturbing” and that the police “did the right thing swooping on those arrested”. He specifically addressed the question of whether or not his dismissal of the case was a direct criticism of police, stating that “[n]othing could be further from the truth” and that “[t]hey have acted entirely appropriate in referring the evidence to me”.

    4.) Condemning those Maori and other politicians who advised waiting until all the information came out is unfair. They made an informed and prudent decision not to jump to conclusions, unlike a number of sections in society and the media. When I compare their actions to the politicians who claimed that “terrorism” was merely a 21st Century moniker for “savage” and “barbarian”, I am reminded nothing less than of those protestors who dressed as Guantanamo Bay detainees and cried “arrest us! We’re protesting! We must be terrorists!” This is pandering to mob mentality at its worst, and denies the Police the benefit of the doubt that even the arrestees received.

    Equating the raids to “a long history of Crown coercive policing towards Māori” is equally irresponsible. I understand that the Ruatoki community have their grievances, and I am sure they have a damn good reason for it. I will not deny that there is definetely a stark contrast between the actions in Ruatoki and the actions elsewhere, and the people of Ruatoki have my utmost support in following up their grievances. But adopting an angry and anti-authoritarian attitude against our Police force – equating it to a very real history of Maori suffering and mistreatment at the hands of the government – is just plain flat out wrong, and insulting both to Police and to the victims of that historical suffering.

    I debated this with Kerry Tankard on another thread some months ago – check it out at


  2. Perhaps the police’ biggest mistake was to try to use the TSA. The TSA was called the TERRORISM Suppression Act specifically because of the hype, and the police should have a) that using it would therefore cause a lot of media trouble, and b) that it would be inapplicable anyway, since it specifically wasn’t intended for such domestic cases. Had they stuck to using more relevant legislation, we could have had a proper debate about the whole thing.

    Thus while Matt is correct that the media have blown it out of proportion – and I think the endless stream of ‘support those arrested’ gigs put on by the anarchist community are a good example of this, since they add nothing to the debate – it seems the police were asking for this hype.

  3. bisky risness says:

    again you saved me from a long typing session.

    i also think one point that is under embellished is THEY HAD THE GUNS

    what do u do with guns
    oh yeh


  4. Rachael says:

    Then why do police get guns? Last thing I checked, NZ didn’t have the death penalty. Fuck.

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