'Urewera Four' sentences decried by iwi leader
Prison sentences handed down to "Urewera Four" members Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara are "completely over the top", leaders of central North Island iwi Ngati Manawa say.
Iti and Kemara, along with Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, were found guilty of unlawful possession of military-style firearms and Molotov cocktails at training camps held in the Urewera Ranges in 2006 and 2007.
Iti and Kemara were sentenced to 2-1/2 years jail and Signer and Bailey had their sentences adjourned but home detention was signalled when they appeared in the High Court at Auckland yesterday.
Justice Hansen said that despite a "Dad's Army" aspect to the camps, their intent was serious.
"As I view the evidence, in effect, a private militia was being established. Whatever the justification, that is a frightening prospect in our society, undermining of our democratic institutions and anathema to our way of life."
Justice Hansen said there was no excuse for criminal offending even when a group had "altruistic motives".
He said in different circumstances the four would likely have faced five to six years in prison.
"But I regard it as highly relevant that the offending was not gang-related or associated with what I might call 'conventional' avenues of criminal activity. On the contrary, it occurred in pursuit of a worthy ideal and, perhaps most significantly, involved only a remote risk that it would lead to crimes of violence."
Maurice Toe Toe and Pem Bird, leaders of central North Island iwi Ngati Manawa which based in Murupara just to the west of Urewera National Park, said the sentences were completely over the top and out of all proportion to the offences committed.
"Sustained mainstream spin, hype and emotion ad nauseum" surrounded the case, painting Iti and Kemara as anti-New Zealand society with villainous and destructive intent, the two said in a statement.
It appeared that had coloured the thought process of the judge, they said.
"How else can you explain the harsh severity of the sentences that have been inflicted on Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria who, if they were not folk heroes before most certainly are now, targets of a grave injustice that will inspire present and future generations of mokopuna to take their own stand against such a system.
"We know a fair shake when we see one and this absolutely is not. All it does is confirm and add ammunition to the fact that Maori in general are not treated impartially by the justice system and that bias and prejudice are alive, well and kicking."