Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Eight days after being arrested, one of the Urewera 17 has finally been bailed. Rongomai Bailey is charged with four counts of posession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, but argued that the police simply didn't have enough evidence to justify it. More importantly, with no previous convictions, no real likelihood of offending while on bail, no risk of flight and no evidence that he would attempt to interfere with witnesses, there was just no legal reason to hold him. As I've pointed out before, bail is a human right in this country, and remand requires a strong justification. And mere allegations of terrorism just don't cut it.

This is good news for Bailey, but it also allows us to see for the first time (well, publicly at least, without the risk of prosecutions for violating name suppression) the sorts of people the police have targeted with these raids. And on the face of it, it doesn't look good for the police. Bailey is not the sort of person who strikes you as a terrorist. He is a peace, social justice and environmental campaigner who has reportedly expressed no previous interest in firearms or violence. His greatest claim to fame is working on an environmental film. He's the sort of person you'd be interested in if you thought that environmentalism was just a front for communist subversion or similar nonsense, but a "terrorist"? Hardly. And many of the people we aren't allowed to name are similar. As this press release from the recently-formed "Friends Of Wellington Terror Arrestees" states, the Wellington group are peace activists, environmentalists, and community activists - hardly the sorts of people you'd expect to be planning a guerrilla campaign or to murder politicians. Now, it's possible that their friends have the wrong impression and that they really are murderous, gun-toting psychopaths as the police allege - but if so, they've fooled a lot of people.

That's the problem the police are up against - the sheer incredulity not just of the allegations, but also of the suspects. And so their evidence had better be good - because if it turns out they've simply rounded up everyone who has talked to Tame Iti in a desperate attempt to justify eighteen months of surveillance, heads are going to have to roll.

Meanwhile, it seems our local Libertarians think that expressing support for the environment and opposition to digging up wildlife reserves is a reason to keep people in jail. Nice to know where they stand on core issues of freedom...