Valerie Morse on the Urewera raids

Posted: September 20, 2011 by Admin in New Zealand politics, State repression, Urewera Defendants

Val Morse was one of the 17 people arrested in the Urewera raids. Along with 12 others in the case, she recently had the charges against her dropped. Four others are still awaiting trial on charges of possessing arms and being part of a criminal gang. Val also edited the book The day the raids came : stories of survival and resistance to the state terror raids, Rebel Press, 2010.  Redline interviewed her this week on the background to the case and its aftermath.

Val Morse

Redline: Can you tell us what happened to you personally on October 15, 2007? What happened in relation to the others who were arrested?

Val Morse: I was arrested at about 5:45am at Trades Hall on Vivian Street in Wellington. I had been sleeping in my office which I did from time to time when working late. The police rolled in, and handed me a warrant with a detailed list of weapons and related gear they were looking for. Then they asked me if I would answer some questions. I said no. They said would I accompany them to the police station and I said no. So they arrested me and took me to Wellington Central.

Around the country, raids were going on. In the small Maori community of Ruatoki, a para-military invasion occurred with the Special Tactics Group setting up roadblocks, conducting aerial, land and waterways searches in the quest for terrorists.

Armed Police road block

Why do you think the raids and arrests took place? Did you have any idea that the state was gunning for you folks?

I see the raids as two parts of a continuing story of a racist, capitalist state. On one hand, it is the same of terrorising tactics the state has always used against its indigenous population. In the 1860s they called it the Suppression of Rebellion Act, in our generation, it is the Terrorism Suppression Act. The second part of the equation is the same old story about the State seeking to shut people up who are active dissidents. They have long done this in Aotearoa New Zealand from the 1913 shooting of Fred Evans at Waihi to the 51 Watersiders lockout and the Cold War surveillance of all leftists.

What happened after the arrests? What were conditions in prison like?

We were denied bail and sent to Arohata. We were in solitary confinement for about a week before being allowed into General Population. The conditions at Arohata as with most prisons is not enough to eat, a constant atmosphere of fear and continually being degraded by the screws.

In terms of some still-existing illusions in parts of the left about Labour, it’s interesting that the raids were carried out under Helen  Clark and Labour. In fact, Clark admitted that the cops went for charges under the anti-terrorism legislation because that legislation gave them far more leeway than the Arms Act. Then when the case came before the courts she said you folks had been training with firearms and napalm! How do feel about the role played by the Labour government in all this?

I hold the Labour Party responsible for the raids. And I hold the National Party responsible for continuing the prosecution. What I will say specifically about Labour and Helen Clark was that neither can take any criticism from the left. They happily bend their will to accomodate their critics on the right, but would rather smash or imprision those on the left, perhaps because they can see their hypocrisy.

Could you tell us a bit about the legal process in all this – there appear to have been some extraordinary negations of what are supposed to be bourgeois legal principles, let alone natural justice.

The fact that we were denied bail was the start of a legal process that really broke all of ‘their’ rules. We should have been granted bail but all of the judges were too scared when the big ‘T’ word was bandied about. From there, we had police leaking evidence that was ruled inadmissible to the media, the denial of a jury trial, the crown attempts to use inadmissible evidence that should have been destoyed, and of course, all of the illegally obtained evidence.

There seems to be a certain vindictiveness on the part of the police and other state agencies. How have the lives of those arrested and charged been affected over the past four years?

I would say it is unimaginable to the average person how much the State can ruin you and ruin your life. To the one bureaucrat, they are just ‘doing their job’ but the myriad ways in which the State can steal your assets, garnish your wages, investigate and threaten you are incredible. It has worn me out.

Where does the dropping of the arms charges leave things for everyone? What’s happening with those who still face charges?

The dropping of the Arms charges is a good start (after four years!) but for our four comrades, the struggle goes on. The Supreme Court threw out the evidence against us, but not against the other four simply because they have one additional charge: participation in an organised criminal group. Now we consider this charge to be total rubbish for which there is no evidence, but it was brought in order for the crown to weasel in the use of this illegal evidence against them.

Tame Iti

Can you tell us a bit about why you think the state is using the criminal gang charges against the remaining four defendants?

As I understand it, this is quite common in Europe and elsewhere. In Germany, their section 129 is the terrorism charge and the 129a is a ‘criminal group’ so no doubt the NZ police have learned that from their cop mates overseas. In essence it is a difficult charge to disprove because in essence it is a charge of ‘thought crime’. None of the 4 have been charged with doing or even conspiring to do any ‘serious and violent offence’ – rather they have talked about things like how great it would be to bump off George Bush.

Why do you think the state, at least in the form of the cops, are so persistently pursuing anything that they possibly can? After all, it must seem to many people that the state, especially the cops, are going to come out of this with a lot of egg on their face.

Well, this country is terribly divided. There is a lot of support for the police and they have continual 24-hr a day propaganda – so when it is all over they can just say, ‘Oh the legal system failed us.’ The State pursues people because that is what the state does, and you just become part of the machine.

Protest in support of the Urewera 17

What can people do to support the last four people facing charges?

Get to grips with the nature of the charge and talk to people about it. Come to support at demos and court in the days and weeks to come.

What conclusions should progressive political activists, in whatever issues they are involved, draw from this whole case?

I think the most important thing for all people involved in political action is to know our histories. Understanding what has happened in the past will inform what we do in the future, and knowledge is power. We should never underestimate the desire of our enemies to destroy us, and most importantly, we should never underestimate our power for revolution.

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