Saturday, 20 Oct 2007

Anti-terrorism law's impact on human rights questioned

By SOPHIE HAZELHURST - NZPA | Tuesday, 16 October 2007
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The rights of New Zealanders affected by yesterday's raids conducted by police under the Terrorism Suppression Act dominated discussions of the swoop in parliamentary question time today.

A nation-wide police crack-down on Maori sovereignty, environmental and political activists resulted in 17 arrests, and a haul of weapons yesterday.

The raids stem from a year-long investigation into what police believe are guerilla-style weapons training camps being held in the foothills of the Urewera Ranges.

All those arrested face charges under the Firearms Act, but Police Commissioner Howard Broad has warned further charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act will be considered.

Among those arrested was prominent Tuhoe activist Tame Iti.

Before question time in Parliament began today, Speaker Margaret Wilson reminded members of the sub judice rule – which prevents commentary on matters before the court.

Ms Wilson said it was up to the house to decide what the law should be, but not to determine how the law should be applied.

"This house does not embark either by debate or by question on an examination of matters that are for adjudication by the court."

Maori MP Te Ururoa Flavell ran into trouble with the rule, asking one of his questions of acting Prime Minister Michael Cullen twice, both times being told his question was out of order by Ms Wilson.

Mr Flavell asked for patience from the house, to general laughter and a positive response from the speaker.

"As the speaker knows I'm still a new member of parliament despite two years, can I have one more shot at that question?"

Mr Flavell asked Dr Cullen what confidence members of the public could have that the raids were not a politically contrived exercise aimed at demonstrating the impact of the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Dr Cullen said the police had acted "entirely independently."

"Senior ministers were briefed after the commissioner of police had made up his mind about where he was going in relation to these matters. The Government does not interfere," he said.

Mr Flavell quoted from a 2005 report which concluded the war on terrorism has in some instances "corroded the very values that terrorists target, human rights and the rule of law".

He asked what rights members of the public would have to claim compensation for broken windows, school and Kohanga Reo closures, and any other consequences of yesterday's enforcement actions.

Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons asked if there were concerns that young people and teenagers were being held in police cells for extended periods of time for questioning, and asked if it could be guaranteed their rights would be upheld.

Dr Cullen said the rights of all citizens, whatever their age, would be upheld during the processes.

In response to a comment from Green MP Keith Locke that the Government needed to be careful the right to disagree with the state was not undermined, Dr Cullen said those rights were fundamental to democracies.

"One of the problems that many democracies face around the world is balancing the exercise of those rights and protecting them properly in an age of international terrorism," he said.

He said any concerns regarding police actions yesterday could be taken up with the Police Complaints Authority.

In response to a question from Mr Locke over whether using the Terrorism Suppression Act was justified, Police Minister Annette King said it had not been up to her.

Mr Locke asked if there were criminal laws that could have been invoked instead, to which Ms King said she had no comment.

Earlier, Mr Locke said the Greens were totally against the use of violence for political purpose, but he was worried about some of the protest groups being subjected to search under anti-terrorism laws.

"Criminal law really has under it all the offences that could be in any way considered terrorist or related to the use of arms," Mr Locke said.

Many community groups and peaceful groups were upset they had been tarred with a terrorist brush, he said.

Mr Locke said he had no evidence of the guilt or the innocence of the accused saying Ms Fitzsimons had received the scantiest of briefings.

Mr Locke said that was not a criticism as it was probably not appropriate for politicians to receive full details ahead of the courts.

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