Background on the case against activists arrested at 2015 Weapons Conference.
In November 2015 27 people were arrested over two days for protesting the NZDIA’s annual Weapons Conference. There are still 15 people facing charges with the court case set to start on February 13 2017 and last the week. The charges remaining are for obstruction and trespass and all have entered a plea of not guilty. Four lawyers are to represent the 15 in court.
The 15 include students, teachers, lawyers, filmmakers, office workers, labourers, engineers, mums and dads. All support received is greatly appreciated as this is a lengthy, costly and stressful experience for all involved. Some background on the case can be found below. And we also have a page dedicated to how you can help.
On the 17th and 18th of November, over 150 people gathered outside Wellington’s TSB arena in response to a call out made by Peace Action Wellington. The protest blocked and disrupted the NZDIA’s annual weapons conference, hindering the business of war. In response the police were violent, heavy-handed and arrested 27 people across the two days.
On the November 17 the protest blocked entrances and interrupted proceedings with noise outside, 26 people were arrested. The following day protestors had a party to disrupt the arms dealers cocktail party and dinner and another protestor was arrested.
At the first court appearance on November 23 2015, one protesters’ charge was quickly dropped seemingly due to a police administration error but 26 were still upheld. Protesters put in an initial plea of not guilty and said they would fight the charges.
“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 more death and destruction,” said Peace Action Wellington member and arrestee Valerie Morse.
“Following the arrests, most of the people were told that they would be issued with a warning instead of being charged. The police, however, changed their minds and instead decided to charge people with minor offences simply so they could impose bail conditions on them prohibiting them from returning to the TSB Arena where the weapons conference was being held. The police were instrumental in shutting down the right to freedom of speech and protest for all of these people, even though they had done nothing wrong.”
“Many of the arrestees were simply the easiest targets for police because they were standing apart from the main blockade, often out of a desire to avoid being arrested. The police then did not file the charges with the court until today so these restrictive bail conditions could not be challenged while the weapons conference was still going on.”
“This court case is just an attempt to silence people and intimidate them into not participating in political activity.” said Morse.
The next court date for the 26 was February 18 2016 in the Wellington District Court. This court date focused on whether people were eligible for diversion, a process by which those involved in low level offending can avoid a conviction.
Nine people who were eligible for police diversion choose to take this so they could continue with travel, study, work and general life plans without a court case hanging over them. Others choose to continue fighting the charges and stand in solidarity with those who were not eligible for diversion. One person choose to plead guilty so to immediately end the ongoing court proceedings.
“Many people found it particularly abhorrent that this weapons conference was held at the TSB Arena, a Positively Wellington City Council venue,” said arrestee and Peace Action Wellington member Valerie Morse.
“Wellington is the nuclear-free capital of nuclear-free New Zealand. In April last year Celia Wade-Brown, in her role as Executive Leader of the International Mayors for Peace, proudly led an international campaign to wave goodbye to nuclear weapons and spoke about the horrors of war. Then in November, war-profiting companies were welcomed to a city council venue. We had hoped that the City Council would take a principled stand and say no.”
“One of the companies present was Lockheed Martin, a nuclear weapons producer and the world’s largest weapons manufacturer. Lockheed Martin was also the conference’s major sponsor. Celia did not wave goodbye to them but rather allowed them to tout business here.”
“The people in court this week should be at the very least the Wellington City Council and the conference attendees, they are the ones who need to be held to account for aiding and abetting warmongers,” said Morse.
On April 8 six of the people arrested for protesting the Wellington Weapons Conference in November met with the police diversion officer and were offered diversion with a 40-hour community service penalty.
The diversion officer said that only 40 hours community service was ordered because they “recognise the right to protest”.
Three others were also eventually offered the same diversion terms.
Another court date was held on July 21 2015 where it was stated there would be a crown prosecutor and that 30 police witnesses would be called over a trial possibly lasting two weeks. The actual date for the trail was still unknown.
“We were surprised that a crown prosecutor is also being brought in specially for the case for charges of trespass and obstruction,” said Gayaal Iddamalgoda.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of protest are part of New Zealand’s Bill of Rights, but the Police’s pursuit of this case is incredibly heavy-handed and seems clearly an attempt at intimidating people and stifling dissent,” said Gayaal.
“The police arrested people to shut down the protest and then told us that we would not be charged. This repression is happening at a time when the government has just committed $20 billion to new weaponry and has invited US and other navies to Auckland. It’s more important than ever that people in Aotearoa stand up for peace, and stand against this militarisation.”
Despite the intimidation Peace Action Wellington planned to join Auckland Peace Action in organising public opposition to the Weapons Conference and navy visit to be held in November, in Auckland.
Another court date was set for September 12 where only lawyers were required to be present. This was a relief for those facing charges as taking time off work, study and life and traveling (sometimes long distances) to attend administrative court dates was stressful and costly.
The trial date was finally confirmed for 13 February 2017 and slated to last the full week.
Only lawyers were present at the court date on September 12. Full disclosure by police of any documents relating to the case was ordered to be provided by 31 October. A registrars list appearance was then set for November 7 with lawyers to advise of any pre-trials details at that time.
The 2016 Weapons Conference was successfully blockaded in Auckland and only one arrest was made across the Week of Peace organised by Auckland Peace Action. The same tactics of non violent direct action were implemented at the protests in Auckland that had been used in Wellington the year before. The police were violent and intimidating in both cities but only felt the need to mass arrest people in Wellington.
One of the obstruction charges is dropped by the police, leaving 15 activists still facing court. The police withdraw the charge and amend others whilst attempting to have one of their 32 witnesses evidence heard early. One of the lawyers attends court on December 12 on behalf of all remaining activists to state that we oppose the evidence of the witness being taken early and that we still do not have all their witness statements and require them.
The application by the Crown to hear the evidence of one police witness before the trial is reviewed in court. After receiving our submissions the police withdrew the application. Everyone has been remanded to 13 February for the trial.
>>>And finally here is a page dedicated to how you can help.