Cameron Walker: A decade after Urewera the Terrorism Suppression Act remains a threat to civil liberties

The designation of national liberation groups like the PKK as terrorist organisations, and the scrapping of a planned Law Commission review mean the legislation could be abused again, writes Cameron Walker.

The 10th anniversary of the so-called “Urewera raids”, which saw armed police descend on Māori, environmental activists and anarchists, has seen a numbers of important reflections on what happened that day and in the weeks that followed. But what about the controversial legal basis used by police to launch the raids?

The police attempted to charge 12 of the 17 people arrested under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 but the then Solicitor General, David Collins, refused permission. The legislation was “unnecessarily complex, incoherent and as a result almost impossible to apply to the domestic circumstances observed by the police in this case,” Collins said. The charge police had their eye on – “participating in a terrorist group” – was better suited to overseas organisations and difficult to apply in a domestic New Zealand setting, he added.

Collins’ thoughtful opinion, and the embarrassment caused to the police when their terrorist conspiracy started to look ridiculous, should ensure the Act is not again misused in a similar domestic setting.

However, it remains on the statute book and its broad and widely defined terms could still see it wielded against supporters of international causes.

Read more at The Spinoff


Banner image “The beginning of the walking track” by Daniel Pietzch is licensed under CC BY NC 2.0.