Activists question police bias as new trial begins

maszengrange3_20160921Peace 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.

—ENDS—

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.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/325168/last-peace-activist-cleared-over-protest-charges

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

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