Activists question police bias as new trial begins
Wednesday 23 August 2017
Peace Action Wellington will once again defend the right to protest tomorrow, as two activists appear in court charged with trespass following an action at local weapons manufacturer MAS Zengrange in 2016.
MAS Zengrange is a British/New Zealand owned company that makes parts for mortar firing systems (1). In September 2016, a group of peace activists dressed as grim reapers threw a party in the company’s Lower Hutt office to protest their complicity in human rights abuses overseas. Five people were arrested following the action, with two facing trial tomorrow.
PAW has successfully defended the right to protest twice in court this year. In February, 16 defendants on trial following the 2015 Weapons Expo protests had their charges dismissed by a judge (2), and in June the judge found there was no case to answer in relation to a further charge of trespass during a protest at the Ministry of Defence (3).
23 people were arrested at the Weapons Expo in 2015, with the police exhibiting heavy-handed and violent tactics in an apparent attempt to intimidate protesters while escorting arms dealers into the event. This latest prosecution follows an alarming trend of the police defending businesses – even deeply unethical businesses – while simultaneously harassing protesters.
“It’s pretty disgusting that the police choose to unquestioningly accept the version of events put forward by companies and their employees, over the activists who protest their complicity in war crimes.” said Laura Drew, who faces charges tomorrow. “The police have repeatedly shown that they believe themselves to be acting for big businesses against protesters, rather than acting as neutral officers of the law.”
“The police said to me that they were going forward with the prosecution because we have a ‘history of protesting’. That’s blatant criminalising of legal activities that don’t happen to suit them.
“MAS Zengrange claim their products do not cause casualties. But it seems unlikely the mortar systems are firing cupcakes at their targets. They’re likely to be used in lethal campaigns. Why would the police think it’s ethical to defend such a company?”
“The police have also persisted in conducting blatant surveillance during protests, as we saw during the 350 Aotearoa protest this year (4). This serves as an attempt to intimidate, and equate activism with criminal activity – giving people the feeling that they are doing something wrong just by attending a protest.
“We have won two of the three unnecessary cases the police have brought against us this year, and we’re hoping to make it a hat-trick.”
Laura Drew and Sean Blair will appear in Lower Hutt Court at 10 am on Thursday 24th August.
Notes for editors:
1: MAS Zengrange specialise in ‘technology systems for remote initiation of explosives and explosive based tools’. They have supplied weapons parts to Saudi Arabia, the UK and US. Former general manager Greg Marsden has denied these products cause casualties, which is not backed up by images from the company’s website, showing soldiers firing massive weaponry. https://www.maszengrange.com/
2: In November 2015, 23 people were arrested at the Wellington TSB Arena while protesting the Weapons Expo. Charges ranged from trespass to obstructing police. 16 cases came to court in February 2017, with all being dismissed.
3: In April 2016 an activist was arrested during a protest about military spending at the Ministry of Defence. The charge came to court in June 2017, where it was dismissed after evidence showed the activist leaving the building well inside the two-minute time-frame requested by the officers present. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1706/S00194/police-use-courts-to-harass-activists.htm
4: In June 2017, police were observed taking photos at a 350 Aotearoa climate change protest outside Parliament. This sparked concern about state surveillance undermining the lawful right to protest. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/93378987/Why-were-police-taking-photos-of-a-peaceful-lawful-protest-in-Wellington
Police use Courts to harass activists
Wellington police have today confirmed that they will again pursue trespass charges against a peace activist. The hearing for a trespass charge will be heard at Wellington District Court despite evidence showing the police’s case has no foundation. Peace Action Wellington member Laura Drew was arrested when leaving the Ministry of Defence in April 2016 after a protest against increased military spending and the controversial US ship visit. Video evidence clearly shows that Drew was leaving the venue within the time frame set out by police officers at the moment she was violently arrested.
This follows a pattern of Wellington police unnecessarily arresting and pursuing conviction of peace activists with flimsy evidence. In February 2017 the police and Crown’s case against 15 activists arrested at the 2015 Wellington Weapons Expo crumbled as it was proven repeatedly that there was no evidence of any crime. The police were eventually ordered to pay court costs to the activists.
Emma Cullen, who was also arrested in 2015 and witnessed Drew’s arrest in 2016 said today “It was a pretty foolish, embarrassing and wasteful exercise for the police to prosecute us for our 2015 Weapons Expo protest. This is becoming quite a trend – the cops are extremely aggressive with us when we exercise our right to speak out against war,
threatening us and arresting us for no reason. They then unnecessarily pursue legal action, which drags on for months, only to eventually take us to court with no evidence at all.”
Cullen continued, “It’s a total waste of taxpayers’ money to take innocent activists to court – I’m pretty sure people would be horrified to know that their taxes are being used to stop people protesting. It’s either complete incompetence on the part of the police – or else it’s a
targeted attempt to discourage us and other activists from protesting. We were recently at a protest against US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit and saw a really high level of police surveillance which suggests that the police are deliberately targeting anyone who
Drew is confident that the police’s case against her will fall apart again tomorrow in court. “Video shows that I did nothing wrong and the police know this. They emailed me today to say that they’re pursuing a conviction regardless. We refuse to be put off by police harassment and surveillance – we’re continuing to organise against the Weapons Expo
which is coming back to Wellington in October this year, as well as against local arms dealers like MAS Zengrange in Lower Hutt. War starts here and we need to stop it here. “
Monday 24th April
Wreath laying for Afghan civilians killed in Operation Burnham
Peace Action Wellington and friends will be joining 2017 ANZAC events in Wellington to remember six civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2010, allegedly by the New Zealand SAS. Peace Action Wellington and friends will honour the civilians who were killed and call for an end to war with a solemn, respectful stand at the dawn service at Pukeahu and by laying a wreath at the Cenotaph at 9am.
The recent book ‘Hit and Run’ by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson contended that our military and SAS are responsible for the deaths of 6 civilians and injuries of many others in a 2010 raid on two villages in Afghanistan. These allegations must be investigated fully and independently to establish whether a war crime under international law has occurred.
Even in war there are rules. The New Zealand SAS have a duty to follow these rules and if not, we should hold them accountable. Hit and Run whistleblowers include Minister of Defence at the time, Wayne Mapp, and SAS members who have spoken out against their own conduct in Afghanistan. The people of New Zealand have the right to know whether innocent people in Afghanistan were killed and injured by NZDF soldiers or those acting on their intelligence or under their command. If we know what has happened, then we can put things right.
Peace Action Wellington call for an end to NZ’s involvement in foreign wars and call for Bill English to immediately instate a full inquiry into the raid on two villages in Operation Burnham. We remember those civilians who were killed, stand in solidarity with the injured and the families of those killed in Afghanistan. We stand against war.
Tuesday 21st March
Peace activists returning to court to reclaim costs of collapsed Weapons Expo prosecution
Tuesday 21st March 2017,peace activists will be returning to court aiming to recover costs for the Crown’s recent failed prosecution against them. Fifteen peace activists who were arrested at the 2015 New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA) Weapons Expo had their charges dismissed or were found not guilty in February this year. During the trial which lasted a week, the Crown’s case crumbled and resulted in zero convictions. Eleven of the peaceful protesters, against whom no evidence was found, are seeking to reclaim costs associated with the failed charges brought against them.
An application has been submitted to Judge Ian Mills for costs to be returned to the peace activists who had been wrongly charged with trespass and obstruction. The application details the many missteps in the failed case against them. All of the activists steadfastly maintained their innocence. “Some of us were offered diversion,” says Emma Cullen of Peace Action Wellington, whose charges were dropped “But we chose to fight them instead because we knew we were innocent! This case hung over us for over a year and a half but completely collapsed in the courtroom.”
Many of the activists felt the Police continued the prosecution as a deterrent to peaceful protest, despite the low chances of conviction, the minor charges and the lack of public interest. “The process here has been really used as a punishment which is unacceptable and a huge waste of our time and taxpayer’s money. We have the right to protest and we’ll continue to take action against the annual Weapons Expo. We know the real criminals were the arms dealers inside that building, not those of us peacefully standing outside getting arrested” continued Cullen.
The activists have also filed a complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Authority (IPCA) regarding police behaviour, arbitrary arrest and detention regarding this protest. The ruling of the IPCA awaits the outcome of these proceedings.
Thursday 16th February
Only 4 of 15 charges remain in Crown case against peace activists
Another charge was dropped on the fourth day of the Crown’s case against 15 peace activists who protested the 2015 Wellington Weapons Expo. Selina Van Doorn’s charge was dismissed after the Judge was shown video evidence which clearly showed that police had violently arrested her for no reason. The Crown have now completed their witnesses and lawyers for the remaining represented defendants have applied for their cases to be dismissed due to lack of evidence.
Van Doorn had been charged with obstructing police but the video demonstrated her asking police officers why another protester had been arrested and then moving away when requested. She was then grabbed by two police officers, pushed to the ground and arrested. Van Doorn today said “This whole process has really made me lose trust in the police. They tried to paint us as a violent mob but we were there protesting for peace and the only ones being violent at the protest were the cops.”
Four defendants now remain. The lawyers for the remaining three represented defendants are confident that the Crown has not presented sufficient evidence to prove any of the charges and at the end of proceedings today filed applications for the charges to be dismissed. One defendant is still representing himself and may present further evidence.
Laura Drew of Peace Action Wellington, whose charges still stand, said today “The Crown’s case has fallen out from under their feet. They’ve got no evidence and it’s really demonstrating that these arrests and the court process has been used as a punishment against us for protesting the business of war.”
Peace Action Wellington will be joining the Double the Refugee Quota campaign outside the Australian High Commission at 8am Friday morning, in solidarity with asylum seekers being held indefinitely in Australian offshore detention. Drew continued, “We’d like to send a message to Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, who will be in New Zealand tomorrow, that his government’s treatment of asylum seekers is unacceptable. The arms trade, war and refugees are inextricably linked and we’ll continue standing against war and in solidarity with those fleeing it.”
15 February 2017
Charges dropped against another peace activist
The judge has dismissed yet another charge in the case against peace activists arrested protesting the Weapons Expo in 2015. After reviewing the evidence provided by the Crown Prosecution and hearing from a police witness the judge found there was no case to answer. This follows the dropping of charges against 9 people yesterday after evidence revealed the protest was on public land and arrests for trespass were unlawful.
With 10 out of the 16 charges dropped after three days of evidence the Crown’s case is falling apart. “After fifteen months, thousands of dollars and a week in court I don’t think the cops ever intended to find us guilty. In fact they were using this court case as the punishment,” stated Jerome O’Connor, whose charge of obstruction was dropped today.
The trial continues tomorrow (Thursday) with the remaining five defendants facing charges of obstruction, trespass and disorderly behavior from the protest against the Weapons Conference at the TSB arena in November 2015. This afternoon while court case was underway a public petition with 4,000 signatures against the Weapons Expo handed in by Peace Action Wellington was tabled in parliament.
This is part of an ongoing week of resistance by Peace Action Wellington, to the arms trade during the week of court. The next public action will be at 8am on Friday where Peace Action Wellington will be supporting the Double the Refugee Quota campaign at the Australian High Commission for a Vigil for Reza Barati. Reza Barati was a refugee killed on Manus Island three years ago where he was detained by the Australian Government.
Peace Action Wellington recognises the direct connection between the arms trade and the plight of refugees, including those from Syria and the Middle East. “While we were protesting, Aleppo was burning”, said Adrian Leason, one of the arrestees who had his charges dropped on Tuesday and was one of the ‘Waihopai 3’.
14th February 2017
Nine charges dropped in farcical case against peace activists: case continues
Nine peace activists are this morning walking free from Wellington District Court after the Crown Prosecution were forced to drop their charges. Lawyers for the activists ripped apart the testimony of the first witness during cross examination before lunch on Monday February 13, shaking the foundation of the Crown’s case. The trial will continue for the remaining six defendants who stood up against the Wellington Weapons Expo in 2015. The campaign against the arms trade will continue with a public petition hand in today at 6pm to Parliament with 4,000 signatures against the Weapons Expo.
The first day of the predicted week long trial saw the stand taken by Brian McGuinness, property owner at the TSB Arena where the Weapons Expo was held in 2015. McGuinness eventually admitted that there was a public easement around the TSB Arena after initially claiming that the area on which the protest was held was private. McGuinness also admitted that the police may not have been properly granted the authority to trespass protesters, shattering the Prosecution’s case against most of those charged with trespass.
Two other peaceful protesters who had been charged with obstruction have also had their charges dropped. “This really shows that the police interfered with our right to freedom of speech in November 2015. We were arrested on public land while exercising our lawful right to protest. I’m glad to have been let off these charges today, but I’m going to keep coming to court to support everyone else who stood up against the arms trade. We all know who the real criminals are – it’s not the peace activists, it’s the arms dealers profiting from death and destruction” said Emma Cullen who had her trespass charge dropped today.
Laura Drew, whose charges still stand, is confident; “I’m proud to have stood up against people directly profiting from war. We were standing in solidarity with refugees and people in war-torn areas around the world whose lives are directly effected by the dirty deals made at the Weapons Expo.”
Drew continues, “Thousand of people of across Aotearoa signed a petition opposing the Weapons Expo which we’re going to hand in to Parliament tomorrow, demanding that the government stop supporting weapons dealers. A strong stand for peace means actively opposing war.”
Media Release: 16 Wellington peace activists to appear in court
11th February 2017
Sixteen people who protested for peace at the 2015 New Zealand Defence Industry Association (NZDIA) Weapons Conference will next week appear in Wellington District Court. The protesters who took part in a non-violent blockade outside the conference have plead not guilty. A week of ongoing resistance to the arms trade will be held during the week of court; including an anti-Weapons Conference petition hand in to Parliament and a vigil for asylum seekers held in Australian
In November 2015, 27 people were arrested over two days for protesting the NZDIA’s annual Weapons Conference at which global arms dealers such as Lockheed Martin, Babcock and Thales as well as local arms manufacturers such as MAS Zengrange exhibit and network with other arms dealers and military purchasers. The peaceful blockade aimed to hinder the business of war.
“All of us are firmly of the view that the crimes going on at the weapons conference were the ones inside the where the companies were busy making deals to sell more weapons. The people blockading took non-violent direct action to stop the proliferation of death and destruction. We on the other hand were exercising our right to freedom of protest. It’s a travesty that we were arrested – protests happen every week, yet in this instance the police have pursued proceedings against peace activists in a trial set down for a week” said Peace Action Wellington member and arrestee Laura Drew.
The charges for the 16 remaining arrestees are for obstruction and trespass and all have entered a plea of not guilty. Lawyers Michael Bott, Chris Tennet & Daniel Vincent are representing the 16 in court, with others choosing to defend themselves, in a process which is due to run for a week between the 13-17th February. “We’d like to thank the peace and justice community for their support in funding our defense,” continued Drew.
Peace Action Wellington and the arrestees are still committed to anti-war and arms trade activism and have therefore planned a Week of Ongoing Resistance. There will be an anti arms trade demonstration outside Wellington District Court on the first day of proceedings and Tuesday 14th will see a petition with 4,000 signatures opposing the NZDIA Weapons Conference presented to Parliament. On Friday Peace Action will partner with the Double the Quota campaign to hold a vigil outside the Australian High Commission on the anniversary of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati’s death on Manus Island.
“We recognise that the issues of war and refugees are inextricably linked and stand in solidarity with those fleeing war to seek safer and better lives,” Drew continues “We’re determined to keep up the struggle against the arms industry. Last year’s blockade of the Weapons Conference in Auckland was extremely successful with many arms dealers locked out – we’re going to continue our campaign and stop the Weapons Conference and the wars it feeds once and for all.”