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(en) Aotearoa (New Zealand), Auckland Anarchist #2 - Starving for justice

Date Sat, 02 Feb 2008 09:19:22 +0200

Over the last few months, there has been a campaign for the rights of asylum
seeking detainees in New Zealand. ---- The recent release of Thomas Yadegary
after two years and five months motivated 5 other Iranian detainees in similar
conditions to make their cases publicly known. To These men were being held in
Mt Eden Prison without charge, because they refused to sign papers allowing the
NZ government to send them back to the country they were fleeing. All had been
through the proper channels to seek refugee status, but all 5 would rather stay
indefinitely imprisoned than be forced to return. Fortunately, there is now only
one man yet to be released on bail, Amir Mohebbi. He has been imprisoned for
over three and a half years now and is New Zealand’s longest serving remand
prisoner ever. Three others have been released on bail and one was sent back to

As anarchists, we believe that all people regardless of race, class, gender or
financial means deserve to live in freedom and peace where ever they may chose
to. Artificial borders, constructed by the powerful elite (to whom their
existence poses no hindrance to movement or profit) should not govern the lives
of people born by chance therein.

Initially, Global Peace and Justice Auckland organised monthly protests outside
Mt Eden Prison, in an attempt to bring some attention to the plight of the
detainees. Some media coverage was achieved, but everything kicked into another
gear when detainee Ali Panah decided to refuse all food to protest his
indefinite detention. Protests were held every week, and his story made the
media a few times. Around day 34 of his fast, Ali was moved to the hospital, but
he refused a drip and was taken back to the prison. Again on day 49 he was
transported to the hospital and this time agreed to take vitamin supplements
that would help minimise permanent brain damage from such a long time without
food. He was sent back to Mt Eden Prison once more.

As activists, we watched on with disbelief as this saga continued. Some hunger
strikers only last around 40 days before death. The longest hunger strike to
date was carried out by Joseph Murphy, during the Irish War of Independence. He
lasted an incredible 76 days. As Ali Panah’s condition worsened, the government
failed to respond, and the media neglected to continue reporting, we decided to
take action ourselves. We decided that we had to do something immediately to
make New Zealanders aware how the unjust immigration system works and to show
immigration minister David Cunliffe that he needed to act, to save Ali’s life.
We agreed that gaining media attention by locking ourselves to Mount Eden Prison
would best way to achieve these aims in the short time that we had.

So on a Saturday morning, shortly before the usual protest was scheduled to
start on day 51, five activists walked casually down Lauder Rd towards the
prison with bicycle D-locks hidden around their necks by jackets and jerseys.
Three of us climbed quickly up an I-beam and on to the balcony roof above the
entrance to Mount Eden Central Remand Centre, and the other two sauntered over
to the two flagpoles in the courtyard. Once on the roof, one activist locked his
neck to a steel beam and a banner was suspended between him and the other two
who had locked their necks together. The two activists at the flagpoles had each
locked their own neck to a pole and also had a banner between them. The set-up
was all done in about 30 seconds and we wondered if the guards had even noticed.

Apparently they had, because the cops showed up fifteen minutes later and
politely told us that we needed to leave. We politely refused. One of the
activists on the roof had been madly making media phones calls since we arrived
and TV3 had showed up to film. These calls to radio, TV, newspapers, magazines
and who ever else we could think of continued until we were eventually all cut down.

The police pulled an enormous pair of bolt cutters out of one of their cars and
one of the activists on a flagpole was cut off with considerable effort, but
relatively unspectacularly. We thought after that it would be over quickly, but
the other protesters had now gathered at the prison entrance with banners and
chants, and began to march towards us. Immediately the police abandoned the bolt
cutters and charged down to stop them entering. The marching protesters wanted
to keep coming forward and as the police tried to force them back, they felt the
need to arrest two of the nearest demonstrators to show that they meant
business. Those two were charged with Trespass, which is laughable, as there is
no way they could have been warned that they were trespassing during the short
confrontation, especially with the noise of the chants.

There were by this time, eight police cars and three fire engines in attendance.
This seemed a little extreme considering the peaceful nature of our protest, and
the lack of fire it involved, and in the end the only contribution the fire
department made was supplying the cops with a short ladder to access the three
metre high roof.

After the run in with the other protesters, the rest of us were cut loose, and
we were run back to the cells by a surprisingly trusting female officer to be
processed. While in the cells there were still two protesters sporting D-locks
about their necks that had not needed to be cut. The cops cut one of them off
successfully, but on the sixth and final lock their bolt cutters broke instead.
A small victory, but a satisfying one.

We were all released on bail later that night and required to report to court on
various days over the following week. Two days later, on Monday, September 3 Ali
Panah was also released on bail and entrusted to the care of his Anglican
priest. That news was a huge relief, but far from victory. Amir Mohebbi was
released earlier this month.

At our first court appearances, the police tried to impose bail conditions of
non-association and that we weren’t to go within 500m of Mt Eden Prison. (This
cuts out sections of the central city that we commute through every day and also
contains my church). Fortunately a judge threw out these conditions upon appeal,
because it was obvious they were an attempt to prevent us from participating in
any further legitimate protests. At the moment we are still awaiting out final
status hearing where we will seek discharge without conviction from the judge,
or pursue a not-guilty plea to the charge of Trespass.
The Auckland Anarchist (called "A Space Inside" for the first issue) is an
irregular zine of the Auckland Anarchist Collective.

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