Hundreds protest raids; Iti's case moved

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Hundreds of people protested against last week's police raids in Rotorua today as three of those arrested had their court cases transferred to Auckland.

The Crown successfully applied in a closed Rotorua District Court today to transfer the cases of Tuhoe campaigner Tame Iti and two others with name suppression from Rotorua.

The hearing was held while the protest march, organised by people from Tuhoe country in the Ureweras, wound its way through Rotorua for about 45 minutes today.

Signs with slogans such as "Police are the real terrorists", "Free Tame & Co" and "Free all political activists" were waved during the march. Among the speakers to the crowd was Iti's son, Toi Iti.

The police have received criticism for the way they handled the operation which resulted in the arrests, including the alleged boarding of a kohanga reo bus.

More than 100 people, including a large number of children, attended the march.

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Streets around the courthouse were closed by police to allow the march to go ahead.

Following the transfer hearing, Tame Iti's lawyer Annette Sykes said an appeal against a decision denying him bail would be heard in the High Court at Rotorua on Monday. The transfer decision may also be appealed.

The trio are due to appear in court in Auckland on November 1 and 2.

Iti was one of 17 people arrested under the Firearms Act and the Terrorism Suppression Act last Monday following raids in Auckland, Wellington, Palmerston North, Hamilton, Christchurch, Whakatane and Ruatoki, 20km south of Whakatane.

The raids were the culmination of a year-long investigation into weapons training camps alleged to have been held in the Urewera country and netted a haul of weapons.

Five of the 17 arrested have had their names made public, the latest being 19-year-old Omar Hamed of Auckland, for whom name suppression lapsed today.

Hamed's lawyer Anthony Rogers said his client chose not to appeal a ruling made last week lifting name suppression for some of the arrested people who have been in Auckland.

Hamed, a Palestinian who was born in Greece but who was raised on the North Shore, faces two charges of illegal possession of a rifle and one each of illegally possessing a molotov cocktail and a military-style semi-automatic rifle.

Others whose names are public are Iti's nephew, Rawiri Iti, and Aucklanders Jamie Lockett and Rongomai Bailey.

Bailey is the only one of the 17 who is not in custody, having been granted bail on Tuesday. He insisted at a press conference yesterday that he was not a terrorist and was concerned at the implications the arrests had for freedom of speech.

He said he understood that Lockett had been beaten twice while in custody and was "not in a good state".

At least two of the others who are in custody in Auckland have appealed the ruling lifting name suppression. These appeals are due to be held in the High Court in Auckland next Tuesday, October 30.

Four media organisations – TVNZ, TV3, Radio New Zealand and Fairfax Media – have indicated they will argue for name suppression to be lifted next Tuesday. All will be represented by one lawyer.

Many of the accused are due to return to Auckland District Court for callover appearances on November 1 and 2.

The arrests prompted several activists to suggest Parliament should delay passage of amendments to the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act, which was passed last night.

Terrorism legislation was discussed at a seminar in Auckland tonight chaired by Auckland Council for Civil Liberties president Barry Wilson.

Speakers included author Nicky Hager, Auckland law lecturer John Ip, civil libertarian Tim McBride and international lawyer Gregory Thwaite.

Meanwhile, a group of about 30 people gathered outside the New Zealand Consulate in central Sydney tonight to protest against last week's raids.

A cordon of 10 police officers stood guard several metres away at the main entrance as several protesters spoke on a loud hailer.

The group, some carrying placards reading "Defend your civil rights" and "Stop NZ state terror", drafted a letter to the New Zealand Government, to be delivered tomorrow to the Consul-General, voicing their concern for the safety of those still in custody.

Similar protests are planned for the New Zealand High Commission in London, and in Melbourne's Federation Square, on Saturday.

- NZPA