Citing the Terrorism Suppression Act, police arrested 18 people in nationwide raids linked to alleged weapons-training camps near the eastern Bay of Plenty township of Rūātoki.
In addition to raids in Rūātoki and nearby Whakatāne, search warrants were also executed in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North and Hamilton. The raids followed 12 months of police surveillance of activist groups ranging from environmentalists to Māori separatists. Around 300 police, including members of the Armed Offenders and anti-terror squads, were involved in the raids. A small number of guns and 230 rounds of ammunition were seized.
Among those arrested was the veteran Tūhoe activist Tame Iti. Police claimed Iti was involved in running military-style training camps in the Urewera Ranges and was planning a guerrilla war to establish an independent state on traditional Tūhoe land. The Solicitor-General subsequently decided that there was insufficient evidence to lay charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act, which he said was ‘almost impossible to apply in a coherent manner’. However 16 people faced weapons charges.
Those arrested were released on bail within a month. After a lengthy legal process, charges against 11 of the 16 were dropped in September 2011; the Supreme Court ruled that the police had obtained evidence illegally. Another accused man had died in the meantime. Iti is one of four people who faced trial in the High Court in Auckland in February 2012 on charges of participating in a criminal group and possessing firearms. The jury was not able to agree on the former charge, but all four were found guilty of firearms offences. In May 2012 two received a sentence of nine months home detention and the other two - including Iti - were each sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
The raids damaged the relationship between the police and Tūhoe. They were ordered by Police Commissioner Howard Broad, who on his retirement in 2010 promised to ‘stand and explain to Tuhoe what the police did’ – and if necessary apologise. The raids also complicated Tūhoe’s negotiations with the government over the iwi’s claims under the Treaty of Waitangi, though a full and final settlement was reached in September 2012.
The Ureweras had experienced similar police action before. In April 1916 a large force of heavily armed constables was sent to arrest the Tūhoe leader Rua Kēnana. Shooting broke out and two Māori, including Rua’s son, were killed. Rua’s trial in the Supreme Court was one of the longest in New Zealand’s legal history. He was found not guilty of sedition but guilty of resisting arrest and sentenced to one year’s hard labour, followed by 18 months’ imprisonment. The presiding officer, Judge Chapman, commented that Māori needed to learn that the law ‘reached every corner’ of the land. Eight members of the jury later spoke out against the harshness of this sentence.
Image: Police detaining a man at Rūātoki (Stuff.co.nz)