Issue could rekindle Trotter's activism

00:50, Jun 28 2011

We regularly organise community events to raise funds and awareness for social causes we feel are worthwhile, including Women's Refuge, Architecture for Humanity's earthquake relief efforts in Christchurch and Sendai, and the SPCA Emergency Earthquake Fund.

As Chris Trotter noted in his article "Activist's mixup lacks integrity" (Perspective, June 7), we recently hosted an art exhibition to raise funds to support the 18 Urewera arrestees and their families through the drawn-out legal battle they have faced since 2007.

The groundswell of public support from the community during and after the exhibition was overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds of people attended the event, and we raised more than $6000 for the defendants.

Veteran human rights activist John Minto fronted the auction on the closing night of the exhibition.

The event coincided with the 30th anniversary of the peak of the anti-apartheid movement against the Springbok tour in 1981.

Given the broad community support shown, we were surprised to find that Trotter felt aggrieved at the notion of John Minto fronting our art auction.

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We asked John to come and talk because we feel the "terror raids" case constitutes a human rights injustice involving the unfair treatment of a number of people engaged in non-violent campaigning for environmental justice, indigenous rights and peace.

These people have been punished for more than 3 1/2 years before even standing trial, and are now denied a trial by jury, breaching the important legal maxim "justice delayed is justice denied".

The refusal of the right to a jury trial is counter to a key component of Western jurisprudence.

Regardless of one's opinion of guilt or innocence in this case, we feel that the process is failing here.

We thought that John Minto might see things similarly, since he was very interested in human rights in 1981 when he put his own safety on the line to help bring about a broad social movement against racism and apartheid.

He is still interested in human rights, and at the auction he gave an inspirational speech about the importance of speaking out against human rights violations.

John also expressed hope at seeing young people, who weren't around during the '81 tour, organising a positive community event as a creative means of non- violent action to speak out against a current human rights injustice.

In the highly acclaimed documentary, Operation 8: Deep in the Forest, even former Red Squad second-in-command Ross Meurant expresses grave doubts about the handling of the case. Politicians across the spectrum share these doubts, including Keith Locke, Phil Goff and Rodney Hide. It is clear that concern about the situation is not restricted to young people, or those on the Left.

The injustice of the delayed trial is serious enough for the issue to have been raised in the UN three years running - hardly a bastion of Left-wing radicalism.

The Concerned Citizens exhibition was a positive community event held to highlight the important role of legitimate activism in a healthy democracy, and to speak out against the injustice currently suffered by a number of activists in New Zealand.

We hope we've resolved any "mixup" regarding our motivations in hosting the exhibition.

Since Trotter was so passionate about human rights activism in 1981, we hope he will now feel confident in lending his support to our future events.

* Ben Knight, on behalf of the Concerned Citizens, a politically diverse community of more than 60 artists and musicians from around New Zealand.

The Press