Who benefits from the doubt?

Sydneysiders: there will be a rally this Thursday, 25 October, 5.30pm at the New Zealand consulate, 55 Hunter St, against the continued detention of those arrested in terrorism raids last week. 

The first ray of light today: Rongomai Bailey is out on bail.

Everyone else could be in for quite a while before anything comes to trial. This is why I find it so hard to just wait until the evidence plays out in court.

If you read nothing else about the case right now, read this excellent piece by Wellington journalist Alistair Thompson. It’s long, but straightforward. It summarises the facts as are allowed to be revealed to the public.

Best of all it expresses so well something that makes this case so surreal, quoting Matt McCarten: “The only problem is that New Zealand is such a small country, everybody knows everybody else.”

The evidence is entirely suppressed, so few facts can be reported in the media except the existing charges (“collective possession of an illegal weapon”) and that the police are considering applying to the government to lay terrorism charges.

Then there are the rumours, anonymous interviews, unnamed sources.

Then there are the people connected to the case at one remove – to police or to the accused – each assuring the public that if they could see the evidence which was being suppressed, they would have no doubt as to guilt or innocence.

Then you have long-time lefties saying they trust the police on this, and old-school police hardmen saying the cops have fucked up big time.

It is understandable that a lot of people’s judgement is to wait and see. Even people who are not naive about the police and are very sceptical about ‘terrorism’.

But on the other hand, there are not many degrees of separation in New Zealand. So it’s not surprising either that this incident has immediately launched a movement. For activists it is personal, knowing the accused and knowing that talk of terrorism is bullshit. It is scary that the police still hold a sword of Damocles over so many heads, brandishing phone-tap transcripts, searching homes and offices and threatening more arrests. There is no sense that those who did nothing wrong have nothing to fear. There is a sense of arbitrariness, that anyone could be next. In Tuhoe country a whole community is under threat (again), and has generated the strongest show of resistance.

So the question that Thompson answers so well is, who benefits from the doubt?

An alternative to simply breathing through the nose and waiting would be to survey the evidence that is in the public domain already, talk to family members and lawyers of the accused (and those caught up in the police raids) and then attempt to come to a position on the wisdom of allowing this case to continue.

There is a brief window of opportunity in the next few weeks – before charges under the TSA are decided upon – during which political influence over the course of this case will be possible.

After charges are laid under the Terrorist Suppression Act the course of events will likely be dictated by the courts alone, and as everybody has learned through the case of Ahmed Zaoui, that can be a very frustrating process…

If evidence remains suppressed – as it most probably will – then in the absence of an organised effort to put the other side of the story – to tell people who the accused really are – public ignorance about the real nature of the evidence and the accused is likely to compound…

There is a window of opportunity in the next two or three weeks which needs to be taken advantage of.

Before the Attorney General decides whether to grant leave for charges under the Terrorist Suppression Act the public need to be assisted to understand as best they can what actually happened in the Ureweras over the past year.

At this point it is hard to imagine how the truth could be any more damaging that what has to date made it into the newspapers.

If you are sitting on the fence, go read Thompson’s piece.

Update 24/10

There will be a solidarity demo in Mebourne also this Saturday, 27/10, at noon in Federation Square. I’m assuming any Kiwis reading this are already well aware of the actions over there.

I should also admit I was wrong to say you can get away with reading nothing else about this affair than the Thompson piece. Check out the reportage and history from our friend and correspondent Reading the Maps, who spent last week in Tuhoe Country and around the East Coast.

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Published in: on 23 October, 2007 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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